Some Major League Baseball players might work as hard as the 37-year-old right-handed hurler, but nobody works any harder.
And that intense work ethic appears to have Contreras targeting an earlier return for the 2009 campaign in recovering from a ruptured left Achilles tendon that ended his 2008 season during a start on Aug. 9 against the Red Sox. That piece of news was courtesy of Jaime Torres, Contreras' friend and representative, who talked with the pitcher on Friday.
"He told me he was way, way ahead of schedule," Torres told MLB.com. "He's doing things that we didn't think he would be doing by now. He feels great."
During a Thursday afternoon conference call to discuss the free-agent signing of Bartolo Colon, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper mentioned as to how he didn't expect Contreras back until after the All-Star break. It was the prevailing thought concerning Contreras' return since the end of the 2008 season, when Contreras was moving comfortably but carefully around the clubhouse.
Cooper quickly added that he could have predicted Contreras would be ahead of schedule because of his hard work and dedication, and that "this guy will surprise you." Even with these positive reports, Torres said Contreras knows better than to force too quick of a return and suffer some sort of setback.
"Thankfully, he's not gone through a lot of injuries in his career, but he is a veteran," Torres said. "Jose is not going to do more than his body is allowing him to do. He's going about it the right way, pushing himself, but with limits."
Contreras is scheduled to arrive at Spring Training with pitchers and catchers on Feb. 15, but neither Cooper nor Torres knew his exact involvement in regard to actual pitching sessions at this point. Contreras, who holds a 65-50 career record, finished with a 7-6 mark and 4.54 ERA in 2008. But his 2008 ERA rose from 2.76 on June 5 to 4.60 on July 13.
His return, along with Colon's addition, gives the White Sox important veteran contributors to go with the young quartet of Aaron Poreda, Clayton Richard, Jeff Marquez and Lance Broadway -- even if Colon and Contreras don't work a full season's worth of starts. The other four hurlers will compete for the fifth starter's spot, although White Sox general manager Ken Williams seemingly left the door slightly ajar for another addition when asked during Thursday's conference call if he was done filling out the rotation.
"We will see," said Williams, who added any additional move made by the White Sox would be a dollar for dollar sort of deal, meaning they won't be adding to the existing payroll.
"I haven't been aggressively out there pushing any player," said Williams. "Other teams have inquired about our players, and as always, I will listen. But I don't foresee anything out there I would classify as major."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.