FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. -- Three weeks into a scheduled four-week rehabilitation program, Orioles pitcher Kris Benson has chosen to have season-ending surgery to repair a partially torn right rotator cuff.
Benson met with Orioles vice president Jim Duquette on Tuesday morning and was later given approval to have the surgery after he conferred with team doctors. He left the team to return home to Atlanta and is expected to have the surgery early next week. It will likely be performed by Dr. David Altchek, the New York Mets team medical director.
"Kris had tried everything to avoid this day," Gregg Clifton, Benson's agent, said last night. "However, despite his best efforts, the consensus among doctors and training staff is that surgery is the best alternative to allow him to perform at the level that he is accustomed to performing at."
The news did not surprise Orioles officials, who felt that it was a long shot that the 32-year-old right-hander would pitch this season. Benson got three opinions - one advising surgery and the other two suggesting attempts at an aggressive rehabilitation program - before he temporarily put off surgery and reported to spring training.
During the first week and a half of the rehabilitation program, which was aimed at strengthening the muscles around the tear, both sides reported encouraging progress. But last week, the pain grew worse, leading to the decision to have surgery.
"In the medical staff's evaluation, he has taken a turn for the worse in the last week," said Duquette, who praised Benson's dedication to the rehabilitation program. "He got better for about a two-week period and it got progressively worse this past week. He's been in pain and the doctors feel like it was time for surgery."
Benson could not be reached for comment last night, but he acknowledged the increased pain in his throwing shoulder to reporters last week.
"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."
Duquette said the surgery does not change any of the team's plans. The Orioles signed veteran right-hander Steve Trachsel to a one-year, $3.1 million deal last month to take Benson's place in the rotation.
"It's really no change," Duquette said. "We've been going under the assumption that we weren't going to have him this year. There was hope that we'd get him back without surgery and we'd have a surplus of starting pitching. But unfortunately, that's not the case."
Penciled in to be the club's No. 2 starter this season, Benson was 11-12 with a 4.82 ERA in 30 starts for the Orioles last season. He was second on the team in both wins and starts, behind left-hander Erik Bedard. Benson also had emerged as a leader on the staff, helping mentor Bedard and 22-year-old lefty Adam Loewen.
The Orioles acquired Benson from the New York Mets in January 2006 for reliever Jorge Julio and promising starter John Maine. The Pittsburgh Pirates' first overall pick in the 1996 draft out of Clemson, Benson has compiled a 68-73 career record and a 4.34 ERA. Six of his seven seasons were in the National League.
The Orioles paid Benson $7.5 million last year and are responsible for $7.5 million this season. They still could pick up an option for 2008, but that is not considered likely.
Because he was traded in the middle of a multi-year contract, Benson could have requested a trade this offseason, but declined that option. He'll now likely be a free agent at season's end, but would like to come back to the Orioles, his agent said.
"I know he doesn't want it to be the end," Clifton said. "He's as disappointed as anybody. The reality is Kris can get the surgery next week and there's no reason he couldn't be 100 percent by November."