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Rays add ex-Braves reliever Bennett

Rays add ex-Braves reliever Bennett

ST. PETERSBURG -- It wasn't a trade, but the Rays did end up making an acquisition on Friday, signing former Atlanta reliever Jeff Bennett shortly before the team's 8-2 win over Kansas City. The move was announced before Saturday's game.

Bennett, who went on the disabled list on June 25 with a fractured left hand and was released by the Braves on July 30, was in uniform and ready Saturday. The 29-year-old right-hander was 2-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 33 games with Atlanta this season.

Tampa Bay optioned reliever Joe Nelson to Triple-A Durham to clear room on the 25-man roster. To make room on the 40-man roster, the team released left-hander James Houser.

Bennett said he was informed of the move at around five Friday evening and drove down from Atlanta early Saturday morning.

"We had several teams interested," Bennett said. "But it came down to, of course, our choice. Right when it came down to signing, there was really only one option for [my family and I], and that was here."

Bennett appeared in 72 games with Atlanta last season, throwing 80 1/3 innings as a reliever -- sixth-most in the National League -- with a 3.70 ERA and held right-handed hitters to a .228 average. Braves manager Bobby Cox used Bennett in a variety of roles -- he started four games and picked up three saves -- throughout the course of the season, and he said he's comfortable filling different spots in the bullpen for the Rays.

"I'll just wait and see what he looks like when we get him around and get to know him a little better," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "In the beginning, [it'll be] more than likely a middle situation unless we need him at the end. I'm not afraid to give anybody a chance, so we'll see how it works out."

Bennett had his struggles with Atlanta this season, though, and was frustrated by an outing against the Yankees on June 24 when he punched a wall in the dugout with his non-throwing hand. Remarkably, Bennett hid the injury and continued to pitch, going out for another inning that day before he was removed. He was placed on the disabled list a day later and had surgery.

The injury required only three weeks to heal and he made two rehabilitation appearances with Triple-A Gwinnett before asking Atlanta for his release. Bennett said there was no hard feelings, just that the Braves had no room for him on the Major League roster.

"I feel like they did me a favor by allowing me to go to another team," Bennett said.

He said he's 100 percent healthy and able to play with a small, "crazy-looking" brace to shield his hand.

Nelson was 3-0 with a 4.02 ERA and three saves in 42 appearances with Tampa Bay this season. The 34-year-old right-hander said Friday night he didn't expect to be sent down, but understands that it's part of the game.

"You've just got to pitch better if you want to stay in the big leagues, that's all it comes down to," Nelson said, adding that he will work hard to rejoin the club in September.

Tampa Bay was quiet on the non-waiver Trade Deadline on Friday despite speculation that the club was looking to bolster its bullpen. Though the 'pen has shown marked improvement over the past few months, especially with the emergence of a closer type in J.P. Howell, there had been considerable talk about the team acquiring another right-handed arm.

Adding Bennett perhaps wasn't the blockbuster some were expecting. But the versatile reliever is a sinker-slider type who specializes in manufacturing ground balls, something that intrigues Maddon.

"He's not maybe like Chad [Bradford], but he puts the ball on the ground," Maddon said. "I'm just eager to see him because I've heard so many good things about him."

Bennett said he's eager, too, to see how he fits in with a team hot in pursuit of a pennant race and trailing tightly behind the Yankees and Red Sox in the American League East. Moreover, the Tennessee native understands some of the perks that come with playing in Tampa Bay.

"I've got two little girls that are really excited to see the Rays tank," Bennett said. "And the beach."

Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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