Cooper will work with Contreras
Pitching coach aims to boost confidence of righty
BALTIMORE -- Jose Contreras' spot in the White Sox rotation is safe for now. Instead of yanking the veteran right-hander out of the starting five following a third straight subpar outing, pitching coach Don Cooper will work on rebuilding Contreras' confidence and repairing his suddenly ineffective split-finger pitch.
"Three starts? No, three starts is not enough," Cooper said. "But like we talked with Mike MacDougal, [who was designated for assignment Tuesday], if it's constant failure or you're not sure what you're going to get or the results you're getting are not good enough, they'll make us think about an alternative. We haven't thought about alternatives or discussed them. What we've discussed is how can we get it better? Let's see if we can take care of that, and hopefully that'll take care of everything else."
Cooper and White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen believe that if Contreras, who is 0-3 with an 8.04 ERA in three starts and was unable to get out of the sixth inning in a 10-3 loss to the Orioles on Tuesday night, can regain command of his split-fingered pitch, he can rebound.
"That's what Jose's problem [has been] in the past," Guillen said. "When he doesn't throw the split-fingered forkball for a strike, he runs into trouble. The velocity is there. I don't think Jose has the confidence right now letting the ball go. That's what I see. Maybe I'm wrong, but every time he lets the ball go, the ball tails somewhere."
So Contreras' upcoming side session, in preparation for his next assignment, on Sunday at home against the Blue Jays, will focus on command issues. He used the split-finger pitch only 12 times Tuesday night, throwing it twice for strikes, Cooper said.
"When he's throwing good, there's somewhere between 20 and 35 of those in there," Cooper added. "Obviously that's going to be the focus of our next sideline. ... That's a major weapon for both lefties and righties for him, but it's also command of the fastball, the ability to get all his pitches over [and] the ability to constantly get ahead of lefties."
Left-handed hitters have proven a challenge for Contreras this season. They are hitting .342 against him, as opposed to .200 for right-handed hitters. Contreras has walked 10 left-handed hitters and only one right-hander.
If it sounds like Contreras is being remade in-season, it's with good reason. Guillen said he doesn't see a better option right now to replace the veteran right-hander in the rotation.
"With Jose, people have to understand and be patient about it," the manager said. "We're lucky to have Jose on the mound. Plan B? I don't see it happening that quick."
Cooper is confident that health is not an issue. Contreras' 2008 season ended after 20 starts when he ruptured his left Achilles tendon.
"It's crossed my mind: 'Is he able to drive off there and ride off there?' But when I see the down-angle pitches being good ... when I see him run better to first base than I've ever seen him run, that's not the case. It crossed my mind, but the bottom line is he's healthy," Cooper said.
Repairing Contreras' confidence might be just as important as any mechanical tweaks. Contreras has said he won't consider the comeback from the Achilles problem complete until he wins a start.
"He's always been a guy that's been very convicted and worked hard," Cooper said. "He wants to get back out there. He's frustrated. He wants to do well. He's a very proud guy. We've known that for a while."
Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.