Juneau's Bentz has successful major league debut with Expos

Posted: Friday, April 09, 2004

MIAMI Jim Abbott made Chad Bentz's road to the major leagues a little easier. Bentz grew up watching Abbott play without a right hand and always believed he could do the same. He proved it Wednesday night.

He made his major league debut against the Florida Marlins, allowing a hit in two-thirds of an inning of relief.

But his accomplishment can't be measured solely by a boxscore.

Bentz was born with a deformed right hand, what he calls his ''birthmark,'' and pitches and catches with his left hand, switching his glove between hands the way Abbott did.

''On the field, I'm not any different,'' Bentz said. ''I'm just like any left-handed pitcher trying to get guys out. Off the field, yeah, I might be a little different.''

Despite plenty of staring and teasing, Bentz said he overcame his handicap at a young age. He grew up in Juneau, Alaska, and was pegged for stardom since Little League.

He met Abbott as a freshman in college, and Abbott assured him he could make it in the major leagues.

So far, so good. Bentz entered Wednesday's game with one out in the seventh inning. Manager Frank Robinson called on him to make switch-hitter Abraham Nunez bat right-handed. Nunez grounded out. Juan Pierre then singled, but Bentz got Luis Castillo to ground out to end the inning.

''I don't know what it meant beyond the game, but I know what it meant during the game,'' Robinson said. ''He stepped up. He went out there, game like that, first game in the big leagues, and first pitch was strike one. He was very composed like he's been in the majors 20 years.''

Bentz thought his debut would come in the opener Tuesday. He was up and throwing twice in the bullpen but didn't get the call.

He was nervous then, but he much more confident Wednesday.

''It was a great feeling,'' he said. ''My legs weren't shaking like everybody was saying they would.''

Having never played above the Double-A level, Bentz was invited to his first spring training camp in February just days after marrying Christie Renfrow (They are expecting a ''healthy'' child in August).

After a shaky start, Bentz posted a 2.92 ERA in 12 1-3 innings and was one of the last pitchers to make the team.

He got some help from the other lefties.

Joey Eischen had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow in mid-March. He will miss the first few weeks of the season. And Randy Choate was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks late last month.

''I don't just want to be up here,'' Bentz said. ''I want to help the team win.''

Abbott, born without a right hand, made his major league debut after a standout collegiate career. He spent 10 years in the big leagues and finished third in the Cy Young Award voting in 1991.

Bentz called Abbott his biggest influence and doesn't mind being lumped together.

Teammate Carl Everett, though, said people were ''reading too much into'' Bentz's handicap.

''He wants to be known as a ballplayer,'' Everett said. ''He doesn't want to be known as a pitcher with one hand.''

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