PITTSBURGH -- As Jose Contreras went through his injury rehab in the Minor Leagues, Clint Hurdle often spoke of what a remarkable man and athlete he is. Contreras validated that impression on Friday, when he joined the Pirates about 10 1/2 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
This could very well be a comeback record among the hundreds of pitchers who have had the elbow-ligament replacement operation.
"After the surgery, the doctor told me it would be 12-14 months," Contreras, standing in front of the new No. 52 uniform hung in his locker, said through interpreter Heberto Andrade, the Bucs' bullpen catcher. "But when I started throwing three months later, I already felt so much better, and I was able to hurry up more."
To make room for Contreras on the 25-man roster, Jared Hughes was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. Hughes, one of the Majors' top rookie relievers last season when he posted a 2.85 ERA in 66 appearances, had gone through a rough stretch, taking the loss in two of the team's five defeats since April 17.
"He just needs to regain command of his sinker. We haven't seen the Jared of last year," said Hurdle, who feels Hughes will benefit from getting "out of this environment where everything is magnified, so he can be stretched out and pitch multiple innings without worrying so much about consequences."
At the outset, Contreras will essentially replace Hughes as a seventh-inning guy.
"But when [setup man Mark] Melancon or [closer Jason] Grilli is [unavailable], he will give us a more experienced option toward the back end," said Hurdle, specifically enthused over Contreras' control and go-to pitch. "He has a weapon in a split-finger that is pretty unique."
Thrilled to be continuing his career, the 41-year-old Cuban emigre was not concerned about his role.
"My job is to be ready from the first to the ninth inning, if needed," said Contreras, who in addition to considerable side work logged seven innings during his rehab. "I'm a winner. That's why I'm still playing. That's the only thing that drives me."
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.