ST. LOUIS -- A close eye is being kept on three pitchers impressively rehabbing from injuries -- left-hander Francisco Liriano and righties Charlie Morton and Jeff Karstens -- but another veteran flying under the radar figures to beat them all to Pittsburgh.
Jose Contreras, the 41-year-old Cuban emigre, could be in the Pirates' PNC Park bullpen May 3 when they kick off their next homestand.
Working his way back from Tommy John surgery in June, Contreras has wowed baseball people with his stuff and command. Most recently, he had back-to-back hitless outings with Double-A Altoona, and he has stepped his rehab up to Triple-A Indianapolis.
He will get another test of pitching in consecutive games Sunday and Monday with the Indians. If all goes well, manager Clint Hurdle indicated Contreras could "join us in early May."
How the Pirates would reasonably accommodate him could be another matter. Entering Friday night's game, the Bucs' bullpen collectively ranked second in the Majors with an ERA of 1.80.
Predominantly a starter for the first seven years of his Major League career, Contreras transitioned to being an important relief cog for the 2010-12 Phillies. In those three seasons, he made 101 appearances, with 85 strikeouts in 84 1/3 innings.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.