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Benoit trying to turn around tough start

Benoit trying to turn around tough start

ARLINGTON -- Joaquin Benoit sat at his locker Wednesday, a large icepack strapped to his right shoulder and a glum look strapped to his face.

The scene might not have seemed so unusual, except that this was three hours before the Rangers' game against the Royals.

But such is the state of things for the Rangers' 2007 pitcher of the year. Soreness before games, soreness after games and an oscillating sense of optimism and frustration with each appearance.

Benoit's ERA swelled to 7.84 after another tough outing Tuesday against Kansas City. The 30-year-old right-hander gave up two runs on two hits and two walks and needed 25 pitches to close out his only inning.

Benoit seemed to have finally found his niche last year as an eighth-inning setup specialist. His career-best 2.85 ERA in a career-high 70 games saw him rewarded not only with the local media's top pitcher award, but also with a two-year, $6 million contract. It gave Benoit the first true sense of job security he'd felt in 13 years with the Texas organization.

The encore, however, has been difficult. Benoit struggled with shoulder soreness that limited him to only four innings of Cactus League preparation during Spring Training. Even though he said his arm strength now is acceptable again, he knows his command and April results are not.

"I'm trying to figure it out," he said after being scored upon for the fourth time in his last six appearances. "I just need to keep pitching and go through my bad games. I didn't pitch much in Spring Training, but I've got most of my strength back. But arm strength isn't my problem; it's where I'm throwing the ball."

Texas manager Ron Washington knows an efficient Benoit is critical to his bullpen's efficiency. With Benoit and fellow projected setup man Kazuo Fukumori struggling this month, the Rangers' bullpen ERA (6.73) was the highest in the Major Leagues entering Wednesday's play. But Washington said he's not ready to change Benoit's role this early.

"We haven't gotten to that point yet," the manager said. "I can see him fighting himself out there. But we know he's capable of throwing the ball in the strike zone."

In attempting to work with a tender shoulder, Benoit admits he probably has compensated in ways that have thrown his mechanics out of whack. Acknowledging such bad habits is the first step. Identifying and correcting them is the harder part.

"It's something I need to do -- quick," Benoit said. "Right now, I'm trying to keep up with everybody. And I'm still behind."

Benoit said there is a difference between pitching sore and pitching hurt, and he is confident the team's doctors and trainers are correct that he is only dealing with tendinitis that must be managed, and not with a serious shoulder injury.

"It still feels a little bit weird," he said. "Getting loose is my problem. Once I get loose, hopefully in the bullpen, it feels OK. But if you're not 100 percent, you're not going to perform 100 percent."

Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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