|Bennett gets fresh start with Rays|
|Friday, July 31, 2009|
ST. PETERSBURG, FL -- Lebanon’s favorite major leaguer Jeff Bennett called getting signed by the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays both a blessing and an opportunity for a fresh start.
And what the Rays believe they have in Bennett, 29, is a fresh look in the bullpen, a workhorse who will likely take on a middle relief role, a slider-sinker-style pitcher who can reach 93 mph and induce ground balls.
That’s what Rays manager Joe Maddon had heard. And it’s also what he saw Saturday in Bennett’s Rays debut, when he struck out two and gave up a hit in the ninth in the 7-1 win against the Royals.
"Good stuff, just as advertised," Maddon said. "Good slider, saw that. Aggressive nature, saw that. He likes to pitch, likes to pitch often. He doesn’t back away or back down. He will fit in just fine."
Bennett, who has spent parts of four seasons in the big leagues, replaces RHP Joe Nelson, who was demoted to Triple-A Durham on Friday night.
As was reported over the weekend at wilsonpost.com, Bennett was granted his release last Thursday from the Braves.
The former Gordonsville High standout and Lebanon resident went 2-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 33 games with Atlanta before landing on the disabled list June 25 with a fracture to his left hand.
The injury occurred when Bennett punched a wall near the dugout in a loss to the Yankees, an incident he told reporters afterward he was ashamed of.
He said he popped the bone back in place and pitched another inning, which actually helped accelerate the healing.
He said he had no hard feelings toward the Braves. "There was no spot for me" after a couple of other pitchers stepped up in his absence, he said, and the Braves did him a favor by allowing him to go to another team.
Bennett said he’s healthy now and eager to be used in any role with the Rays, whom he picked over a few other teams due to Maddon, the clubhouse atmosphere and a chance to compete for a playoff spot.
"We had several teams interested, but when it got down to signing, there was really only one option for us, and that was here," Bennett said. "In our minds, this was the best place for us to be."
Last year he pitched to a 3.70 ERA while posting a 3-7 record and three saves in a career-high 72 games (4 starts). He also set career bests with 97.1 innings pitched and 68 strikeouts.
Bennett held right-handed hitters to a .228 avg., while surrendering one home run in 228 at-bats. His 80.2 innings pitched as a reliever in 2008 were sixth most in the National League.
Originally a 19th round selection of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1998, he was a Rule 5 selection by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2003 and made his Major League debut for the Brewers in 2004, appearing in 60 games.
In 168 career games (six starts) with the Brewers and Braves he has pitched to a 3.96 ERA (215.2 innings pitched, allowing 95 earned runs).
He joins a Rays team that was 10 games over .500 as of Tuesday (58-45) and opening a series vs. the Boston Red Sox.