Van Benschoten signs deal with Padres

| Friday, July 15, 2011

YORK — The York Revolution lost one of their biggest characters and best pitchers Thursday.

Former big-leaguer John Van Benschoten signed a minor-league deal with the San Diego Padres. Van Benschoten has been assigned to Triple-A Tucson.

An unsigned free agent throughout the spring, Van Benschoten — the Pirates' first-round pick (No. 8 overall) in the 2001 Major League Baseball Draft — came to York, an Independent League team, after the season started with the hope of being noticed by a major league club. He never failed to entertain, with his pitching arm or his sense of humor. He went 3-2 with a 2.91 ERA in eight games for York.

"If you're a baseball player, you always want to be in the big leagues," Van Benschoten said in a phone interview. "This is a step closer. It's good to know I have another opportunity (to get back to the major leagues).

"But I can't worry about when it might happen, I'm only going to be worried about playing. You've just got to play and play and play."

Van Benschoten appeared in the major leagues in 2004 and 2007-08 with the Pirates. He had a combined 2-13 record with a 9.20 ERA in 19 starts.

Former major leaguer Jesus Sanchez could take Van Benschoten's spot in York's starting rotation. The lefty is scheduled to join the Revs on Friday in Southern Maryland.

Van Benschoten managed to keep things light in the Revs clubhouse. When the Bridgeport Bluefish team bus was stuck in traffic June 24, causing a game in York to be delayed by about an hour, Van Benschoten didn't stress — even though he was starting. He could be seen in right field air drumming along while the Muppets sang on the stadium's video screen. Van Benschoten was banging along on his imaginary skins as Gonzo, Animal and Beaker performed Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."

When outfielder James Shanks posed for a photo on the field before a game, it was Van Benschoten who raced to pose tenderly with his teammate — standing directly behind Shanks with both his hands placed on Shanks' hips. The pose would only have been fitting had it been a married couple.

"You've got to have those type of guys in the clubhouse, keeping guys loose," Revs director of baseball operations Michael Kirk said. "He could help guys relax, but he also got all his work done. He helped the younger guys, and once he got right, you could see why he was a first-round draft pick."

Van Benschoten did not earn a win until his fifth start for York. Beaten up in his first start at Sovereign Bank Stadium, Van Benschoten allowed a season-high 11 hits against the Road Warriors on June 3 — although much of the damage was done with bloop singles and grounders.

"That was one of the first time I pitched outside all year. I was feeling it out on the mound," Van Benschoten said. "I had to get in game shape and get my outdoor legs back. I've been doing the same routine every year. I had to have a spring training, and usually those numbers don't count, but this year they counted."

After missing the first spring training of his career, he became a dominant pitcher after just a few starts.

Six Revs have been signed by major league organizations this season, and reliever R.J. Rodriguez accepted a contract offer to pitch in the Mexican League.

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