Benoit authors unlikely streak

Rays' Benoit authors unlikely streak

ST. PETERSBURG -- Before the season, Joaquin Benoit didn't know if he would pitch in the Major Leagues again. Now, he's on an unexpected and untouchable streak on the mound.

Benoit has struck out the last nine batters he's faced and given up two hits and no walks in seven innings since being called up from Triple-A Durham on April 29. His strikeout streak is the longest over multiple games since Eric Gagne fanned 10 straight over four games for the Dodgers in 2003, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"Right now, he's pitching as well as anybody out of our bullpen," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said.

The right-handed reliever has done a particularly impressive job getting batters out with his changeup. Six of his nine straight strikeouts have come on batters swinging and missing at his devastating off-speed pitch. Benoit said he considers his changeup a fosh -- somewhat of a mix between a slider and a changeup -- and he said people call it by plenty of other names. And even though opposing batters may know it's coming on a two-strike count, they know it by another name: strike three.

"Most of the guys expect me to throw a changeup after two strikes, and it's been working," Benoit said. "They are expecting to see a changeup. They even call it in the bullpen.

"Sometimes they're right, but sometimes I go back to the fastball because some hitters expect me to throw a changeup with two strikes now."

This run of success has given the 32-year-old Benoit a much-needed confidence boost after he spent all of 2009 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn right rotator cuff. He said he is more relaxed with the Rays than he has ever been, and he has taken that newfound confidence onto the field.

"I step on the mound, and I'm going to attack hitters," Benoit said. "They're going to hit me, or I'm going to get them out."

He didn't always have that level of belief in himself, though. He spent the 2009 season in his native Dominican Republic, working out and whipping himself into better shape in hopes of getting back to the big leagues. But in February, when he tried out for the Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla., he had no idea whether or not he would even be on a Major League roster after so much time off.

Even after Benoit made the team, he faced another potential obstacle: time in the Minor Leagues with Triple-A Durham. But he waited his turn, eventually got the call-up and has been on a roll ever since.

"When you're on a run like this, whatever you do, it works. Everything is going great," Benoit said. "It's something special that you need to take advantage of."