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Shoulder pain throws O's Benson for a loop

The Baltimore Sun

JUPITER, FLA. -- Two weeks into his rehabilitation program, Orioles pitcher Kris Benson is experiencing an increase in soreness that could accelerate his decision to undergo surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff.

Benson had indicated he would wait a month before re-evaluating his shoulder, bringing him to the halfway point yesterday. Though he has been able to strengthen the muscles around the tear, the recurring pain has rekindled his original concerns.

"I had a rough couple days," he said. "I don't know if it's just a little bump that I'm going through or what, but the last couple days have been pretty sore. I'm still doing all the exercises and everything and still improving on the strength and all the other activities. It's just that whenever it gets flared up like it is, it's tough to get that range of motion.

"Just like any rehab, you have good days and bad days. Especially the last couple days, I've been a little sore. We'll see what it feels like today."

Benson didn't work out Sunday for the first time since reporting to camp. He noticed the discomfort the next day and into Tuesday.

"It was kind of reminiscent of the time that I did it when I was throwing," he said. "I didn't really do anything different; it just kind of popped up out of nowhere. And then, once again, it's just popped up out of nowhere.

"It's just tough to tell what's going on with it. Basically, we've still got another week or two to work on it and get the inflammation back down again and see if it comes back again or if this is just like another little hump that I need to go over. We've been working pretty hard with it, upping the weights and everything, so it could just be a little ticked off right now."

Manager Sam Perlozzo hadn't spoken to Benson yesterday, but he checked with head trainer Richie Bancells for an update before heading to Jupiter, where the Orioles played the Florida Marlins.

The Orioles seem to view the soreness as an expected byproduct of the program.

"According to Richie, it was the normal course of events and he thought that [Benson] was getting close, strength-wise, to where they might want to go to an every-other-day program and get him closer to start to throw the ball," Perlozzo said.

"I think the encouraging thing I heard this morning is Richie said arm-strengthwise and the weights he's been able to do was approaching where he needed to be to start throwing off the mound or playing catch or whatever it is. So I kind of figured it as a positive."

Dr. Craig Morgan, an orthopedic surgeon in Wilmington, Del., who has examined Benson in the past for scapula and elbow problems, said the normality of the shoulder pain is related, in part, to the size of the tear.

"There's a whole spectrum of the words 'rotator cuff tear' in pitchers, so it's not an easy question to answer," he said. "There's tiny ones, middle ones, big ones - sort of like a Goldilocks thing.

"And particularly in throwers. If you rounded up 100 major league pitchers with absolutely no symptoms who are absolutely stud pitchers, they'll all have small lesions in their rotator cuff, particularly if they're older than 25 years old."

The Orioles hold a $7.5 million option on Benson's contract for next season. He'll become a free agent if they decline to pick it up. Surgery would keep him from pitching this year.

"I'd probably say, either way, we're going to know what it's going to feel like in three or four weeks, so it's not like there's going to be much of a difference between four and five weeks," Benson said. "By the end of that period, we'll have a really good idea of what direction we're going in, and I think everybody's opinion is not to let it continue to stretch out any longer. Especially if I do come back here next year, it's not going to impact next spring or next season and stuff like that.

"That was the whole point of rehabbing it, the fact that I had a little window in there that I could play with as far as getting back to 100 percent so I could do some work during the wintertime and take a little rest before I get back down to spring. We've still got another week until I make a pretty good guess on what's going to happen."

The Orioles advised Benson to begin rehabbing the shoulder once he reported the pain to them over the winter, but he sought two more opinions before consenting to it. Dr. James Andrews advised he withhold having surgery until immersing himself in a program that includes cuff-weight exercises, stretching, and electronic stimulation and ice treatments.

The procedure had caused the pain to dissipate until Monday morning, leaving Benson to grasp for reasons.

"It really isn't anything I can pinpoint," he said. "The only thing I can remember doing the other day was I propped myself up on my elbow to look at a magazine. I didn't stay on it very long, because I've always kind of watched that side a little bit. But then the next morning I woke up and it was pretty sore, so I don't know if that was the thing or if it was something that was not even totally related to that.

"It definitely isn't anything that we've been doing in the training room, because that's definitely done nothing but help. ... It just aggravates itself whenever it wants to, I guess."


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