<
>

Pitcher says he's '100 percent' healed

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Kris Benson threw off a mound Friday for the first time since July, then
pronounced himself healed from the shoulder injury that cut short
his 2003 season.

"I'm 100 percent, no doubt about it," Benson said.

Benson, the Pirates' opening day starter last season, threw 30
fastballs -- the same workload as the other pitchers attending the
team's annual January minicamp.

"My shoulder felt great," Benson said. "I didn't have any
type of problems at all. I felt strong enough to keep going. I was
throwing nice and easy and the ball was coming out easily. I
couldn't have asked for more for my first time off the mound."

Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon also was pleased as Benson began
his comeback from his second major injury in four seasons. He
missed the 2001 season and part of the 2002 season following
reconstructive elbow surgery.

"From a physical standpoint, I was pleased with what I saw,"
McClendon said. "I'm sure from a mental standpoint, he's glad this
day is over."

Benson didn't pitch after July 17 because of pain apparently
caused by his shoulder blade being out of alignment. He began a
light throwing program in October before taking six weeks off
around the holidays.

He will throw again Sunday in the final day of minicamp, then resume
workouts next week at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. He is expected to be
ready for the start of spring training Feb. 21.

"For not throwing off a mound for six months, I'm pleased with
the feel he had," pitching coach Spin Williams said. "He's
probably ahead of most people in this camp and ahead of where he
was in most years when he was healthy."

Benson's goal is to pitch 200 innings, something the No. 1 pick
in the June 1996 draft has done only once in the majors.

"I need to re-establish myself in this league and get back to
where I was before my surgery," he said.

Limited by injuries, Benson was 14-15 over the last three
seasons. His 5-9 record and 4.97 ERA last year each were career
worsts.

"I want to show myself that I can get through another season
without an injury," said Benson, who is in the last year of a
contract that pays him $6 million this season. "I'm looking
forward to this season more than any other, even more than the year
I came back from Tommy John surgery. I feel like I've gotten
everything taken care of."

Benson, 29, is expected to begin the season in a rotation that
also includes right-handers Kip Wells and Josh Fogg and left-hander
Oliver Perez.

"It's important to have him (Benson) out there every fifth day
and have him doing what he's capable of doing," McClendon said.
"It puts another power arm in our rotation and we need that if
we're going to have success."