Veteran reliever eager to help Pirates

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- A lot transpired in Jose Contreras' baseball career before his arrival Sunday at the McKechnie Field clubhouse.

He followed a stellar career in Cuba with a defection and a large contract with the New York Yankees. After a trade to the Chicago White Sox, he discovered success as a starter. Pitching in his late 30s with the Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies as a reliever, Contreras showed he still had it.

Sitting his 6-foot-4 frame on a stool in the back corner of the clubhouse, the 41-year-old right-hander discussed trying to help the Pirates as he recovers from his second elbow surgery in a 10-month span. He will figure out his role with the team later.

"They haven't talked about that," Contreras said in Spanish, with bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade translating. "The deal was just done two days ago. I'm here to help anywhere the Pirates need it."

Contreras had Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in late June after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament and flexor pronator tendon. He also had elbow surgery in September 2011.

"If we get Jose Contreras back to the Jose Contreras he's been in the past, it's a very productive major league pitcher," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We'll see where he falls in the bullpen. If he gets back to where he was, he could be a very productive member of our bullpen."

Contreras' road to the bullpen was a long one. He compiled a 117-50 record and 2.82 ERA in seven seasons in Cuba, according to the Yankees, before defecting in 2002 and establishing residency in Nicaragua. He signed a four-year, $32 million contract with the Yankees, but had a 5.64 ERA in 18 starts in 2004, and New York traded him to the White Sox.

His four years in Chicago proved more successful. He won at least 10 games a season from 2005-07, won a World Series in 2005 and made the American League All-Star team in 2006. After he compiled a 5.42 ERA in 21 starts in 2009, the White Sox traded him to the Rockies. He then signed with the Phillies before the 2010 season.

Pitching in relief full-time for the first time in his career, Contreras struck out more than a batter per inning in 67 games in 2010. The elbow injuries limited him to 17 appearances in both 2011 and 2012, and the Phillies declined his 2013 contract option after last season.

In January, taking advantage of new laws allowing Cuban natives to return to the country, Contreras traveled back to see his extended family and his mother, who had health problems that are now improving.

"At the beginning, when I got here in the United States, I had that hope to come back to Cuba," Contreras said. "Time passed and then I just felt like, that ain't gonna happen. So when I saw the new law that I can come back, it was amazing for me. It was like a new hope."

No WBC for Martin

Russell Martin said he will not play for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic due to objections to him playing shortstop from Team Canada and the Pirates.

"I wanted to be able to play in the WBC if I could play shortstop and have fun, and that's as simple as it gets," Martin said. "If they didn't want me to play shortstop, I knew I wasn't going to have that much fun going to the WBC, so I'll stay here, and it makes sense because I get to stay here with the guys."

Martin said opting out of the tournament also will help him learn his new pitching staff more quickly.

Pirates win again

James McDonald pitched two scoreless innings without allowing a hit in the Pirates' 9-2 win against the Atlanta Braves.

McDonald pitched quickly from the windup, but changed his rhythm with runners on base as part of the Pirates' ongoing effort to slow opposing running games.

"When I'm out there doing [pitcher's fielding practice] I hold, hold, hold, just so I can feel comfortable, so when I do go on the mound it doesn't feel really awkward," McDonald said.

Clint Barmes went 2 for 2 with a two-run home run off Braves reliever Jonny Venters.

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG.


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