Contreras vies for spot in Bucs' bullpen
BRADENTON, Fla. — A recent trip back to Cuba gave Jose Contreras a measure of emotional healing. Now, he can focus on his physical recovery in a bid to win a job in the Pirates' bullpen.
The veteran right-hander reported to spring training Sunday after signing a minor league contract. Contreras, 41, had Tommy John surgery June 20 to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament and a torn flexor-pronator.
“I feel good,” Contreras said through translator Heberto Andrade. “I've thrown three times off the mound without pain. I need to keep doing my rehab, and time will tell. My arm will tell when I'm ready, and then I'll go from there.”
Despite having two operations on his right elbow in a span of 10 months, Contreras has put up decent numbers. Over the past three seasons, Contreras had a 3.74 ERA and a 1.233 WHIP, and he averaged 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
“When he was healthy in 2011, we had reports that his stuff was as good as ever,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “If he gets back to where he was, he can be a very productive member of our bullpen.”
After playing catch with Contreras on Sunday morning, bullpen coach Euclides Rojas offered an upbeat report.
“His stuff was very good,” Rojas. “He's getting there. I think he's going to be back 100 percent.”
In October 2002, Contreras defected while playing in a tournament in Mexico. After a game against the Dominican Republic, Contreras flew to Tijuana and drove across the border to San Diego.
Contreras originally signed a four-year, $32 million contract with the New York Yankees. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 2004 and also has played for the Colorado Rockies (who converted him to a reliever in 2009) and the Philadelphia Phillies.
As he adjusted to life in America, Contreras endured bouts of depression. He left his wife and two daughters behind in Cuba, and he was forced to “attend” his father's funeral by telephone.
“At the beginning, when I got here to the United States, I hoped I could go back to Cuba,” Contreras said. “But time passed, and I began to think it wasn't going to happen.”
However, Cuba recently reformed its immigration laws to allow defectors to return. Contreras was the first pro athlete to take advantage, visiting his hometown of Las Martinas, Pinar Del Rio, in January.
“I was so excited to be there with my family,” Contreras said. “Unfortunately, I had to go there because my mom has some health problems. She is recovering, little by little. It was great for me to get back again with my family, friends, people I played with and most importantly, the fans. It's one thing to (dream of) it, and another thing to be there again.”
Rojas fled Cuba in 1994, sailing in a makeshift raft until he was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. Rojas said he might not return unless the communist government is thrown out of power.
“I am an American citizen and very proud of it,” Rojas said. “I would love to go back to Cuba, but with the government there, I would want to go as an American. The government says any of us who goes back has to go as a Cuban citizen. In my heart, I can't do that. I respect everybody else's opinion, but I have mine.”
Contreras said it looked as if Cuba hasn't changed much in the decade he's been away. After making more than $67 million in the big leagues, he still believes his choice to become an exile was the right one.
“I have no regrets,” Contreras said. “It was the best decision I ever made in my life, to come here and play in the best baseball league in the world. I'm so happy I made the decision.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Liriano, Pirates complete sweep of Tigers
- Gameday: Pirates vs. Indians, July 3, 2015
- Shaken by economic, political turmoil, MLB forsaking Venezuela
- Pirates notebook: Cole cool about hostile comment
- 2B Walker, Pirates smash through Tigers pitching in road victory
- Bush Center displays rare Honus Wagner baseball card
- Gameday: Pirates at Tigers, July 2, 2015
- Gameday: Pirates at Detroit, July 1, 2015
- Starkey: Cervelli’s inspiration
- Long toss is considered valuable tool for MLB pitchers’ arm health
- Pirates minor league report: Kramer comes with power potential with short-season Black Bears