Maybe one particular trip to the mound, maybe one specific inning, could return the big right-hander to the form that helped him win a franchise-record 17 straight decisions in 2006. But hope seemed to run out Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, at least in the short term, after Contreras allowed seven runs on eight hits over 2 2/3 innings.
Manager Ozzie Guillen informed Contreras approximately one hour before Wednesday's game that his start would be skipped on Sunday in Detroit, and right-hander Gavin Floyd would get the call. Contreras could work out of the bullpen during his absence from the starting rotation, with the present plan being to hold him out for one turn.
"Right now, that's what we're going to do for the good of Jose," said Guillen, making the announcement during his pregame meeting with the media. "We try to protect him to see if it's mentally, physically, guts, whatever it is? We're going to skip him one start and see what happens.
"If we need him, we're going to use him. I don't think Contreras can skip one start and pitch the next one without throwing the ball. We will find a spot for him to work and see what happens."
Factoring in Tuesday night's rough showing, Contreras has a 9-23 mark since the 2006 All-Star break. He also leads the Majors with his 14 losses in 2007 and has a 1-10 record with an 8.87 ERA during his last 12 starts.
Contreras never has wavered from his assertion of complete health, despite his fastball hovering in the high 80s and barely touching 90 mph during a few of his starts. The veteran hurler instead blames his problems primarily on poor location. Any pitch thrown down the middle of the plate will be hit hard somewhere, Contreras reasons.
In case Contreras has been bothered by a tired arm, though, Guillen believes the one-start respite can do nothing but help his cause.
"That's why he's going to the bullpen," said Guillen, who pointed to Contreras' slight uptick in recent velocity as a reason working against the tired arm theory. "I think, right now, his head is spinning all over the place. This kid is proud. He's always pitched well. We'll see if this move gets him better for the rest of the season."
Although the immediate plan for Contreras involves just one missed start, Guillen added Wednesday that Floyd's success could extend his stay as a starter. Floyd has struggled during his limited opportunities with the White Sox, entering Wednesday with a 0-1 record and 10.05 ERA in four games.
Two of Floyd's appearances have come as a starter and two have come in relief. But the most overwhelming number amongst Floyd's pitching statistics has to be home runs allowed, which stands at eight in just 14 1/3 innings. That total went up by three following Floyd's three-inning relief stint against the Yankees.
To Floyd's credit, his confidence has stayed strong through adversity and the young hurler hasn't lost belief in his stuff. Floyd also seems ready to work out of relief if that option is the only one afforded to him after Sunday.
"I just feel like I will learn more up here than anywhere else," Floyd said. "I struggled [Tuesday] night, but I will learn from it and try to get better.
"It's something I have to talk to [pitching coach Don Cooper] about," added Floyd of the high home run total. "I think I'm maybe not really showing too much to disrupt their timing, but I feel my pitches are there."
Cooper was given partial credit for helping to turn around Contreras from a middle-of-the-road starter in New York to a staff ace who opened all three playoff series during the club's 2005 run to the World Series crown. Guillen and Contreras himself, of course, also played a strong role in this change of effectiveness.
So, it's understandable how Cooper would have a strong connection to Contreras, just as he does with his other four starters and relievers alike. That bond of pitching faith led Cooper to take a good 30 seconds Wednesday before answering as to whether he would keep Contreras in the rotation.
Ultimately, Cooper agreed with Guillen's move -- even before they had the talk.
"Part of me says yes. That's the sentimental part of me, saying yes," said Cooper of keeping Contreras as a starter. "But right now, where we're at, the situation we're in, where we put ourselves, we have to start looking at trying to find out who can help us the rest of this year and look at guys possibly for next year and see who can help us win.
"Anybody that might be in our picture next year would have to be considered now to see what we can find out about them during the season rather than Spring Training, that's for sure. I think we've seen what can happen with guys where we have to learn about them in Spring Training. It's not the best place to do it, whether it be a hitter or a pitcher."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.