Friday, May 13, 2016

Jose Contreras K's 10 in Tigres shutout at Yucatan

Former major league pitcher Jose Contreras continued to turn back the hands of time Thursday in Quintana Roo's 2-0 shutout over Yucatan at Merida's Parque Kukulkan as 9,432 spectators looked on. The 44-year-old Cuban blanked the Leones on four hits over six innings, striking out ten batters and walking two.

Contreras left with the game still a scoreless tie and did not earn the decision as Raul Barron pitched the seventh and eighth to get the win, bringing his record to 5-0 on the season.  Alex Liddi and Sergio Contreras hit back-to-back RBI singles in the ninth to put the defending champions ahead, leaving it to Esmailin Caridad to come in to record a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth for his eighth save of the year as the 22-13 Tigres slipped past 21-14 Yucatan into second place in the Mexican League's South Division, trailing only the 24-11 Puebla Pericos, who had an eleven-game winning streak snapped Wednesday in Veracruz.

The story of the night Thursday, however, was the pitching of Contreras, who recorded his second ten-strikeout performance in his past four starts.  The former White Sox hurler is now 3-3 with a 3.02 earned-run average in eight starts for Quintana Roo.  His showing in Merida was payback of sorts after the Leones touched him up for six hits and three runs over 3.2 innings in his first start of the season April 1 in Cancun.  Since then, Contreras has registered a 2.66 ERA and went the distance in the Tigres' 10-2 win over Laguna on April 24 in Torreon, whiffing ten Vaqueros' batsmen while spinning a seven-inning four-hitter.

Cancun is the latest stop in a long and winding career for Contreras, who was a mainstay for years with Cuba's Pinar del Rio team as well as a starter for that nation's gold-medal winning side at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics along with Baseball World Cup champions in Rome and Sydney before defecting while pitching at the Americas Series in Saltillo in October 2002.  He signed with the Yankees, as so many Cuban expats did at the time, and spent part of the 2004 season in New York as a 32-year-old "rookie" before being traded to the White Sox for fellow pitcher Esteban Loaiza in midseason.  The 6'4" right-hander was 41-25 between 2004 and 2006, pitching for the Chisox World Series winners in 2005 and in the All-Star Game in 2006.

Things started going south for Contreras in 2007 when, at a listed 35 years of age, he was 10-17 for Chicago with a 5.57 ERA.  Although he pitched all or part of six more MLB seasons for the White Sox, Rockies, Phillies and Pirates, he never won more than seven games again.  He was converted into a reliever during a short stay in Colorado during the 2009 season and never started a big league game again.

Contreras began a third stage of his career in 2014, when he started 23 games for Tijuana in the Mexican League and went 10-3 with a 3.49 ERA, striking out 140 hitters in 134 innings.  That led to a season in Taiwan with the Chinatrust Brothers before returning to Mexico this year to pitch for manager Roberto Vizcarra's Tigres, who will open a three-game home series against Carmen Friday night at Estadio Beto Avila.