Contreras hasn't reached that same dominant level through two Spring Training starts, although he made big strides Wednesday by fanning six Royals hitter over four innings. But manager Ozzie Guillen expects the big right-hander to reach an elite level once again in 2007, if he throws strikes and stays healthy.
"He's my man, my ace," said Guillen of Contreras, who became the first White Sox starter to work four innings this spring. "You see Contreras last year at the beginning of the season and I've never seen a guy throwing the ball like that.
"All of a sudden he got hurt. I still have my worries [about Contreras]. [Is it] one thing I'm going to lose sleep over? No. I have to be concerned about injuries and the past. But I'm pretty pleased with what I saw today."
Guillen pointed to Contreras' intense work ethic, where he might run three miles before he pitches or warm up for an hour, as a reason his staff has targeted for Contreras' injury woes. He battled through sciatica immediately after his great start to 2006 and suffered hamstring issues that literally knocked him to the ground in late starts at Oakland and at home against Seattle.
After giving up two runs on five hits Wednesday, Contreras admitted that a rough second half was brought about in part by battling through these nagging maladies. Contreras went into his first All-Star appearance with a 9-0 record and 3.38 ERA but was disappointed by his 4-9 mark and 5.40 ERA following the All-Star break.
Tuesday's performance, albeit with his velocity in the low- to mid-90s but rising, has Contreras encouraged by the possibilities for 2007.
"Physically and mentally, I'm feeling real good right now," said Contreras through a translator. "As long as I get out there on the mound every five days, I figure I can help this team out.
"The second half of last year I had all these little problems, a leg pull. In order to compensate for that, I was doing other things. I was trying to get over those little things but just couldn't do it. This year, I'm feeling 100 percent right now. Everything is right back to normal. I'm throwing strikes and hitting the zone."
Roster quandary: If Nick Masset continues to pitch as he did Wednesday against the Royals, Guillen admitted it will be tough to break camp without the young right-hander.
"I'm very excited about [Wednesday's outing]," said Masset, who struck out two and gave up one run over two innings. "I thought I kept the ball down, threw a lot of strikes, had a pretty good ball-to-strike ratio, and overall just attacked the hitters.
"We went right at them, got a lot of ground balls. That's a big thing for me."
Masset, 24, remains in strong contention for one of the final bullpen spots, although it looks as if Gavin Floyd, Charlie Haeger and John Danks have pushed Masset into the background in the battle to fill the fifth starter slot. Guillen couldn't commit to Masset at this point, not with the White Sox still to decide how many relievers they will need or get a full read on Scott Podsednik's health.
"I just have to go out, get people out and make the team," Masset said.
Playing the angle: Alex Cintron reported no pain in his left calf or his right elbow after his first Cactus League start Wednesday. The veteran shortstop still is adjusting to a new over-the-top throwing style, implemented to ease the strain on his surgically repaired elbow.
"I didn't feel any pain at all. It's just weird with my arm motion," Cintron said. "It's more mental, but I just need practice and more games to make it natural."
Hello, old friend: When Ross Gload stepped to the plate in the first inning for Kansas City, Guillen joined the White Sox fans in applauding for the former Chicago utility player. After three years as a successful part-time player with the White Sox, Gload was traded to the Royals for left-handed reliever Andrew Sisco during the past offseason.
"I love him. I love the way he went about his business," said Guillen of Gload, who tripled and scored a run Wednesday. "He did a lot of great things for me and the ballclub. His teammates appreciate what he did for us. [The trade] was good for him, too. Here he was Paul Konerko's caddie. Over there, he's going to play a lot.
"The only bad thing about it is he doesn't have anyone to pay his lunch," added Guillen with a laugh. "Konerko paid his lunch for 2 1/2 years."
Around the horn: The White Sox have opted to use closer Bobby Jenks for one inning in Thursday's regularly scheduled game at Hi Corbett Field, as opposed to the original plan of the morning "B" game, because Guillen and pitching coach Don Cooper wanted to see him against the Major League bats. Jenks' shoulder continues to feel strong, with the right-hander scheduled to throw two innings some time in his next two or three appearances. ... Josh Fields' second-inning home run Wednesday was the team's ninth this spring. White Sox pitchers have given up six. ... Eduardo Perez raised his average to .444 with two hits, while Pablo Ozuna's two hits moved his average up to .429. ... A handful of White Sox players attended Tuesday's WWE tapings in Tucson, with Joe Crede getting brief air time during a bit involving "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
Up next: Floyd tries to build on his strong Cactus League debut last Saturday, during which he allowed one run on three innings, in Thursday's start against Colorado at Hi Corbett Field. The White Sox will feature their expected Opening Day lineup, aside from Jerry Owens starting in left field.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less