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Mariners counting on Benoit's veteran presence in 'pen

'He brings experience and calmness,' Cruz says of right-hander
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

PEORIA, Ariz. -- When Joaquin Benoit was acquired by the Mariners in a November trade with the Padres, many expected the veteran right-hander to land the closer's role for a team looking to replace Fernando Rodney and solidify the back end of its bullpen.

But when side-armer Steve Cishek signed with Seattle as a free agent later in the winter, general manager Jerry Dipoto immediately said the former Marlins closer would assume that role and Benoit instead became a valuable right-handed setup man.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- When Joaquin Benoit was acquired by the Mariners in a November trade with the Padres, many expected the veteran right-hander to land the closer's role for a team looking to replace Fernando Rodney and solidify the back end of its bullpen.

But when side-armer Steve Cishek signed with Seattle as a free agent later in the winter, general manager Jerry Dipoto immediately said the former Marlins closer would assume that role and Benoit instead became a valuable right-handed setup man.

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Benoit successfully handled the closer's role at times for the Tigers in 2013 and Padres in '14, chalking up 35 saves and certainly proving he could handle the job. But if you think that news that he wasn't first in line for closing time in Seattle upset the 38-year-old Dominican, think again.

"That's where I believe that I'm different," Benoit said. "I'm here to get outs. I'm here to pitch. I'm not the guy that is going to break any records. Where I am in my career, I don't have 100 saves. So I'm not going to break Mariano [Rivera] or [Trevor] Hoffman's records. I'm here to get outs, take care of things and have fun."

Benoit is a big man at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds. He'll bring a large, looming veteran presence to the Mariners bullpen. But in the often wacky world of relievers, where goofy antics and interaction help alleviate the long days spent sitting together in the bullpen, he'll mostly let his pitching do the talking.

"I'm the quiet guy. I'm not the loud guy," Benoit said. "But it's always good to have a little variety, and different personalities. It's always good to have a funny guy and a crazy dude that do crazy stuff. It's good to have a little bit of everything. But the crazy dude? No, that's not me. And it never has been."

That's not to say Benoit doesn't have some personality. After throwing his first bullpen session of camp on Friday, the big man -- who had been slowed by a sore back the first week -- said he just wanted to get his initial work in and take care of one unusual order of business.

"I got to know the mound. I introduced myself to them," he said with a smile. "You have to. That's your office. You need to meet the place where you're going to work the next six weeks."

Benoit has been quietly efficient throughout his 14-year Major League career and he's seemingly gotten better with age. He owns a career 3.84 ERA in 661 games with the Rangers, Rays, Tigers and Padres. In the last six seasons, he's put up a 2.35 ERA in 388 appearances with a sterling 0.939 WHIP and 422 strikeouts in 379 innings.

"Joaquin Benoit has been one of the best setup guys in the league for most of this decade," Dipoto said. "He has been at times dominant and mostly as consistent as anybody in the league. And though he's older, he hasn't wavered. His fastball velocity hasn't changed. His swing-and-miss rates on the changeup are as good as they've ever been."

Right fielder Nelson Cruz, a longtime friend and neighbor of Benoit's in the Dominican Republic, says the big man will be a big help to Seattle's chances this year.

"He brings experience and calmness," Cruz said. "He knows what he's doing and he believes in his stuff. We have a pretty good group of guys in the bullpen. The bullpen is going to be a huge key for us. Like you've seen the last few years, the teams that have the good bullpens are the ones that go all the way. I think we have a pretty good bullpen."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast.

Seattle Mariners, Joaquin Benoit