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Pirates notebook: Veteran pitcher Contreras signs minor league deal

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 4:21 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher Jose Contreras works out at McKechnie Field Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013 in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke delivers against the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013 in Port Charlotte, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Video promo for Pirates outfielder Brad Hawpe's 'Natural' moment. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — The Pirates are bringing another injured veteran pitcher to spring training.

On Saturday, the team signed right-hander Jose Contreras to a minor league contract. He is expected to report to camp Sunday. Contreras, 41, is recovering from Tommy John surgery and will rehab during spring training.

Contreras will have company as he recovers from the injury. Charlie Morton also is on the mend from reconstructive surgery. Left-hander Francisco Liriano, who was signed as a free agent, is working his way back from a broken right arm.

Contreras joined Philadelphia Phillies in April 2012, eight months after having elbow surgery. He pitched 13 23 innings for the Phillies and posted a 5.27 ERA before sustaining a complete tear of his ulnar collateral ligament and a flexor pronator tear.

He had reconstructive surgery in June. This past offseason, the Phillies declined to pick up his $2.5 million option.

Over the past three seasons, Contreras has pitched in 101 games, all as a reliever. In that span, he had a 3.74 ERA, a 1.233 WHIP and averaged 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

Contreras debuted with the New York Yankees in 2003 after defecting from Cuba. He was an All-Star in 2006, when he won 13 games for the Chicago White Sox.

Locke efficient in win

Left-hander Jeff Locke looked like he could've pitched all day Saturday in the Pirates' 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

“No, no,” Locke said. “I was scheduled for two (innings), but three was fine. I kept going until they told me I was done.”

Starting pitchers typically work either one or two innings in their first spring training outings. Locke tossed three scoreless innings, walked one and struck out one.

The bonus inning was a reward for efficiency — Locke threw just 32 pitches, 18 of them strikes.

“It feels good to get out there and compete, especially against someone wearing a different jersey,” Locke said.

It helped that Locke arrived at Pirate City in mid-January, about a month before camp opened, and settled into a regular throwing routine.

“That definitely has something to do with how (good) I feel right now,” Locke said.

Call him ‘The Natural'

In a small case, tucked away in a special spot in Brad Hawpe's house in Fort Worth, Texas, rests an old, scuffed baseball surrounded by shards of broken glass. It's a memento of a home run that ignited his dream of playing in the major leagues.

In 1996, Hawpe was a senior at Boswell High School in Fort Worth when he hit a grand slam against Class 4A rival Springtown. The ball sailed high over the right field fence and crashed into the light tower.

“Knocked out the lights, stopped the game,” Hawpe said. “It was pretty good.”

It was a moment straight out of the movie “The Natural,” with sparks sizzling through the air and debris falling onto the outfield grass. Hawpe's teammates later put the ball and some of the jagged shards in a glass case, and then gave it to Hawpe.

The keepsake means more to Hawpe than just a dusty memory of a titanic homer.

“That was the moment I realized I could drive the baseball,” Hawpe said. “It was the first time in my life I'd done something special like that in baseball. Going into high school, I'd never hit a home run. Once I started to grow and put in the time and effort, it started to pay off for me.”

Injury report

Right-hander Jeff Karstens (biceps tightness) is no longer feeling discomfort in his arm and is slated to throw a bullpen Sunday. If all goes well, Karstens likely will pitch batting practice Tuesday. ... Liriano (broken right arm) is throwing soft toss. He remains on track to start playing catch and running in early March.

Let's get physical

A growing number of players include yoga or Pilates in their workout routines, but it doesn't faze old-school manager Clint Hurdle. He remembers when training methods first started to become a bit less bland.

“I'll tell you one thing that really freaked out a lot of people ...” Hurdle began.

In 1983, Hurdle went to spring training with the Seattle Mariners. Early in camp, manager Rene Lachemann announced the players would being each day with a round of aerobics.

“Back then, there wasn't much group exercising,” Hurdle said. “You just kinda did your own thing. To get loose, you ran to a wall, touched it and ran back. Then you played catch.”

A few months earlier, “Jane Fonda's Workout Book” was released and helped ignite a new fitness craze in America. So, the Mariners hired an aerobics instructor and Lachemann gathered his players for a workout.

“Initially, there was pushback (because) it was so outside the box,” Hurdle said. “After we finished the 30-minute session, we realized there might be different ways to get into shape because we were all pretty gassed. We were using a lot of muscles that we had never thought about using to get loose at the start of the day.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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