Benoit out to show he has plenty left at 36
PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) Padres manager Bud Black was quick to point out reliever Joaquin Benoit has the most service time of anyone on the San Diego roster.
While it was meant as a compliment, Benoit is out to prove he is nowhere near the end of his career.
Carrying some bitterness from an offseason where his options were limited as a free agent, the 36-year-old Benoit is settling in to his new role as the setup man for Padres closer Huston Street.
”It wasn’t hard,” Benoit said of accepting the Padres’ two-year, $15.5 million offer with a vesting option in 2016. ”What was tough was when every team is telling you how old you are.”
The 6-foot-3 right-hander figured he’d get significant interest after pitching in the postseason each of the past four seasons with Tampa Bay and Detroit following his successful recovery from shoulder trouble. He even filled in as a closer with the Tigers last season, earning 24 saves in 26 chances.
He had a 2.01 ERA with 73 strikeouts and 22 walks in 67 innings in the regular season in Detroit, though he gave up the tying grand slam to Boston’s David Ortiz in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
And while the Tigers inked 39-year-old closer Joe Nathan to a two-year, $20 million deal in December, they didn’t keep Benoit.
”I don’t really understand why it’s a big issue when you have Joe Nathan signing and getting two years and he’s 39, 40. For me to be 36, I don’t see it,” Benoit said. ”I’ve proven that I’m healthy and I’m getting better every year. I don’t know what else they want for us to do. Guys get older.”
Black sees Benoit’s experience, especially in the postseason, as a positive for a young Padres staff and an organization that last reached the playoffs in 2006.
”In my short time with him, I like this style,” Black said before the Padres’ second spring training workout. ”We’re talking a very limited number of days, but he’s got a nice way about him.”
The native of the Dominican Republic is expected to replace setup man Luke Gregerson, who was traded to Oakland for outfielder Seth Smith. Along with fellow new addition Josh Johnson, the Padres boast an improved pitching staff that has some thinking they could surprise after consecutive 76-86 seasons.
For the first time in several seasons, the Padres have their starting rotation and much of their bullpen set before the first exhibition game.
”In the past we’ve made some trades and some of our best players have been on the way out,” catcher Nick Hundley said. ”It’s nice to know that there’s a monster flow of talent coming in. After (Benoit) signed, after JJ signed, I got five, 10 text messages, like, `Let’s go. Let’s start spring now.’ So the guys are excited. You can’t not be when talent comes into your clubhouse.”
Moving to pitcher-friendly Petco Park and no longer having to face designated hitters will take some of the sting over Benoit’s free-agency disappointment. The next task is reaching the postseason for a fifth straight season.
”We’ve got a great rotation. Those guys are proven major league pitchers. Our bullpen is solid,” Benoit said. ”If our bullpen is healthy and our rotation is healthy, I think the hitters are going to feel the pressure for them to try to score some runs for us.
”Hopefully we can prove a lot of people wrong.”
NOTES: Black said backup C Yasmani Grandal, six months removed from reconstructive knee surgery, is on a ”scaled back” program, but is ”doing enough to stay current” as he works to be ready for the start of the season. . Black said he’s focused on the ”delivery and arm action” as pitchers throw bullpen sessions early in camp and not how the ball is coming out of their hand. ”I look at the fundamental points of the delivery,” he said.