Contreras finds form in win over Royals
White Sox ride three homers to take series finale
CHICAGO -- Forget about breaking down game film or looking for flaws in pitching mechanics during side sessions as a way for Jose Contreras to correct a recent disastrous six-start run on the mound for the White Sox.
All Contreras needed was to speak with an old friend and make a recommended wardrobe adjustment in order to shut down the Royals over seven innings during Wednesday's 4-2 victory at U.S. Cellular Field. Contreras received a phone call from Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, his countryman and teammate on the 2005 World Series champions, receiving words of wisdom concerning, of all things, Contreras' uniform pants.
"El Duque called me and said, 'If you want to win, wear your pants up,'" said Contreras, through interpreter Ozzie Guillen Jr., after first laughing when he heard the question about the pants comparison to El Duque's style. "I'm not going to change that until something else happens."
Showing off the high socks certainly wasn't the only reason why Contreras (5-11) was able to post his first victory and first quality start since giving up one run against Cleveland on July 8. Contreras threw strikes and worked at a quick tempo, limiting the Royals to one run on three hits.
He struck out eight, falling one short of matching a season high, and issued just one walk. This important performance came on the heels of the bullpen picking up 4 2/3 innings in relief of Freddy Garcia in Tuesday's loss and helped the White Sox (62-59) take a virtually must-win series from the last-place Royals (47-73). The White Sox moved to two games back of the Tigers later in the evening with Detroit's 3-1 loss to Seattle.
Wednesday's effort was a far cry from Contreras' past six starts, during which he had a 0-4 record with a dismal 7.62 ERA.
"That was nice," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski of Contreras' 97-pitch effort, of which 64 went for strikes. "We needed him to do that, especially with the off-day tomorrow. He gave some guys in the bullpen a rest. It was a pretty easy game. There wasn't a lot of stress."
"Today, he did have a good tight slider," said Kansas City manager Trey Hillman. "He made it difficult on us because he located his fastball pretty good. He had the fastball I was afraid he was going to have. He didn't leave a whole lot out over the plate."
While Contreras was picking up his 10th career victory against the Royals, Zack Greinke (11-8) suffered his second straight loss to the White Sox this season after two completely dominant head-to-head victories to begin his campaign. Greinke came into this start with only seven home runs allowed in 2009, but the White Sox almost got to half that total on Wednesday alone.
Paul Konerko's two-out double scored Scott Podsednik with the game's first run in the opening frame. The remaining three runs came via solo shots from Gordon Beckham (No. 7) in the third, Carlos Quentin (No. 13) in the fourth and Alex Rios (No. 15) leading off the seventh.
Quentin went deep in back-to-back games to close out the Royals series. Rios homered for the first time as a member of the White Sox.
"I'm getting to know everybody now and feeling like I'm at home," said Rios, who has now been part of the club for a little more than one week.
"Every pitcher, no matter who it is, is going to make a bunch of mistakes throughout the day," said Greinke, whose 2.44 ERA still leads the American League. "They looked bad on all my good pitches, but whenever I messed up, they never messed up when I messed up."
This victory gives the White Sox a little momentum moving into Thursday's off-day and this weekend's home series against the Orioles. They need to continue feasting off of teams at or near the bottom of their respective divisions because Monday begins a stretch of 21 out of 23 games that includes an 11-game road trip to Boston, New York, Minnesota and Wrigley Field, a four-game home set with the Red Sox and a West Coast trip to Anaheim and Seattle.
Getting Contreras to pitch like he did on Wednesday, though, will be a major step in the White Sox push to catch Detroit, a team they trail by three in the loss column, in the American League Central
When asked before the game about his expectations for Contreras, manager Ozzie Guillen comically pleaded that he didn't want to have to go to the mound in the third to get Contreras. It was a possibility, considering Contreras had not made it into the fifth frame in any of his past three starts.
These weren't meant to be critical words towards Contreras from Guillen, but instead a sign of support and hope for one of the hardest-working and most well-liked players on the team. Little did Guillen know that Contreras would have the magic of the high pants working for him in Wednesday's victory.
"Most importantly, the team won," Contreras said. "Nothing changed. I just wanted to get up on the hill and have a good start."
"It's fun to play behind guys who are throwing strikes," Beckham said.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.