Latest start shows Contreras' progress

Latest start shows Contreras' progress

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Jose Contreras has been saying all along that his back feels fine, and on Saturday, the White Sox right-hander backed his claim up with a performance that should erase any doubts about his health.

Contreras' quality start against the Angels was blemished by back-to-back homers he surrendered in his last inning, but even so, the Sox will take it. His final line: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 K. Contreras threw 84 pitches, including 54 strikes.

"Definitely, this is the best I've felt all spring," Contreras said through interpreter Lou Hernandez. "I was locating my pitches -- everything was right in the zone. I felt really good throughout the innings, except for two pitches that [were] left outside the zone in that last inning. Otherwise, this is the best I've felt all spring."

A year ago, Contreras started the regular season 9-0 with a 3.38 ERA and made the American League All-Star team, but back problems took their toll, and Contreras went 4-9 with a 5.40 ERA after the break. Contreras' nine losses tied him with Tampa Bay's Tim Corcoran for the most in the second half in the AL last year.

The 35-year-old missed his final start of the season because of a hamstring strain and finished 13-9 with a 4.27 ERA.

"I had the back pain in the second half of the year, and it was because of the angle of my hip and the angle of my arm and how I was releasing and because of that back pain -- that's why I had the second half that I had," Contreras said. "In the offseason, I did a lot [of work], most importantly to strengthen my back. At this point, my back feels great, and I think I'm ready."

Against the Angels, Contreras threw a split-finger fastball that was dropping, and his breaking stuff was crisp -- not the easiest thing to accomplish the dry desert air.

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"For the first time in a long time here in Arizona [Contreras' breaking ball], was working real well," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "The last two outings, he's thrown the ball good. He's pitching better, he's feeling better -- it's all about timing. I think the last two outings, he's been real good."

Contreras also displayed control of his fastball, which wasn't always the case at the tail end of last season, when he was trying to pitch through pain. He will get two more starts before making his first Opening Day start on April 2 against Cleveland.

"Truthfully, I was surprised that I was chosen to be the Opening Day pitcher," Contreras said. "There are so many quality arms on the staff -- [Mark] Buehrle, [Jon] Garland -- there's so much talent on this staff, I was surprised, but I'm honored."

Honored, and apparently ready to go.

"Mentally, physically and especially technically, I feel as good as I'm going to feel, and I feel good," Contreras said. "At this point, I have two more outings, and I feel good [about] my progress."

Jim Molony is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.