ONCE AGAIN, Kris Benson appeared to be on the verge of making an important step in his recovery from 2007 shoulder surgery. And once again, that important step has been put on hold.
Benson was scratched from a scheduled start at Class A Clearwater last night with what the Phillies are calling tightness in his right biceps.
The organization says the condition isn't the same biceps tendinitis that hampered him at the end of spring training, causing the Phillies to shut him down for nearly 3 weeks. But they are concerned.
"We obviously don't like it," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "We'd like to be able to have him be able to pitch consistently and be healthy. We'll stay with him for now and see how he progresses. We need to get him on the mound and evaluate him and see if he's going to be able to help us in the big leagues."
Benson, the former Baltimore Oriole who signed as a free agent in February, has not pitched since Sept. 27, 2006. He had rotator cuff surgery on March 20, 2007.
Any necessary reminder of the difficulty in making the leap from shoulder surgery to big-league pitching was provided Sunday when the San Diego Padres announced that former wunderkind Mark Prior would miss the 2008 season with his second such procedure in 2 years.
Benson's latest setback isn't nearly as severe, and the Phillies are hopeful they will see him on the mound in the near future. After progressing steadily the past couple of weeks - a groin injury in late April also set him back - Benson was scheduled to throw 75 pitches in Clearwater, Fla., last night. But Amaro said Benson woke up with soreness in his right arm and, after testing it, decided he wasn't well enough to pitch.
The organization, as it has for the past couple of months, has declined to speculate on the righthander's prospects for this season.
Have they eliminated him as a possibility to help the rotation?
"I don't think we've gotten to that point yet," Amaro said. "But again, he's going to have to pitch for us, so we can evaluate whether he is going to be able to help us at the big-league level."
Carlos Ruiz hasn't been in the lineup since Saturday night, but it isn't because of the bruised left hand he suffered in the Phillies' loss to the Marlins. Ruiz is healthy enough to play, but manager Charlie Manuel has decided to play backup Chris Coste the past couple of games.
"It's not that I don't want to play 'Chooch,' " Manuel said. "I wanted to play Coste."
Ruiz has improved this month, hitting .254 in May vs. .206 in March/April, but entered last night with only eight hits in his previous 37 at-bats. Overall, he was hitting .228 with a .300 on-base percentage and a .291 slugging percentage. Coste, meanwhile, entered last night hitting .330, with five home runs, 16 RBI and a .393 on base percentage. He entered last night hitting .375 (18-for-48) with three home runs and nine RBI in his last 15 games.
Ruiz said his hand, which was hit by a pitch Saturday, is still a little sore, but that he would have no problem catching and playing an entire game.
"I told Charlie, 'I'm ready to go if you need me,' " he said.
Even if Jayson Werth isn't ready to return to the lineup when he is eligible to come off the disabled list June 7, it won't be long after that date. Werth, who strained his oblique on May 23 and was immediately placed on the 15-day DL, took 100 swings in the batting cage yesterday. He likely will take live batting practice tomorrow, after which the Phillies will consider sending him on a rehab assignment.
Werth said the injury is progressing well and that a June 7 return is possible.
"That's what I'm hoping for, if it's ready and it's progressed that far," said the outfielder, who is hitting .260, with nine home runs and 26 RBI. "Maybe a couple days more. I'm not sure yet."