Jose Contreras looking at comeback with Indianapolis Indians
By Brian Peloza Post-Tribune correspondent July 7, 2013 5:34PM
Former White Sox and Yankees pitcher Jose Contreras throws a pitch for the triple-A Indianapolis Indians. He's attempting to make a comeback at age 41 after Tommy John surgery last year. | Bill Gentry~Indianapolis Indians
Updated: August 9, 2013 12:43PM
INDIANAPOLIS — Jose Contreras once stood front and center on his sport’s biggest stage: starting and winning Game 1 of the 2005 World Series for the Chicago White Sox.
He’s now living out of a hotel as a member of the Indianapolis Indians, the Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s the third minor league jersey the 41-year-old Contreras has worn this season — his first in the Pittsburgh organization — just one year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Contreras is not making his comeback for the fame. He was arguably the ace of the White Sox staff that won the World Series, the organization’s first in 88 years.
It’s not for the money. Contreras has earned an estimated $67 million in his major league career, according to BaseballReference.com.
One simple reason is fueling Contreras’ comeback: He wants to go out on his own terms.
“I don’t want to end my career this way — with people thinking I’m hurt,” Contreras said through translator, and teammate, Ivan De Jesus Jr. “I want to show people, show the team that I can still pitch ih in the big leagues and the way people remember.”
Motivation for Contreras is never far away, as his wife and youngest son are living with him on the road, with the latter often appearing in the clubhouse.
“The only thing that is motivating me to still be here at 41 is my passion of baseball and my family,” Contreras said. “I want to let (my family) know I can still pitch. I want to see my little son in the stands watching his dad pitching in the big leagues.”
Contreras underwent Tommy John surgery last June, which typically takes 12-14 months to recover. But after “strictly following” rehab directions, he returned in 10½ months.
After pitching nine innings in six appearances — during rehab stints with single-A Bradenton, double-A Altoona and Indianapolis — Contreras was called up by Pittsburgh in May.
Despite pitching well in the minors, Contreras didn’t fare as well with Pirates, allowing five runs in seven innings over seven appearances, with an additional rehab appearance thrown in due to lower back inflammation.
Contreras was then released by the Pirates, but told they wanted to sign him to a minor league contract and evaluate him for a longer period of time.
Looking to prove himself again, Contreras agreed and has pitched well since returning to Indianapolis in early June, allowing one earned run in 10⅔ innings over 10 appearances. He’s struck out 11 and walked five.
“(The question) is to see if the stuff that plays in the big leagues is still there and I think it is,” said Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor, who said Contreras is throwing 91-92 mph consistently, while touching 93. “His forkball is probably as good as a pitch as you’re going to see like that.”
Count Indianapolis closer Vic Black, ranked the top relief prospect in the Pirates organization, as a believer in Contreras still having major league stuff. Black recalled watching a Contreras throw a forkball with such movement that led every pitcher in the bullpen, all of whom are at least 13 years younger than Contreras, to get off their seats.
“It was in the middle of the game, but we all ran into the clubhouse to watch the replay on TV,” Black said.
The key is building Contreras’ arm strength back up, Treanor said, as he speculated sooner or later Pittsburgh will come looking for another bullpen arm.
“We need to get that arm strength back because of his time down and get him back to where he was in his career,” Treanor said. “The bullpen is taxed (in Pittsburgh), so sooner or later something is going to happen and they’re going to need somebody else up there.”
If Contreras can regain his arm strength and consistently throw near the level he has previously, his experience over two decades of professionally playing in the major leagues and Cuba could make him a likely call-up for a team in the midst of a pennant race while still holding the best record in Major League Baseball.
“I think he can still help us in Pittsburgh and they do, too,” Treanor said. “It was one of those situations where he went off the roster but they asked him to stick around because they think he can still be a factor.”