Jose Contreras passed his most recent test with flying colors. The key now for the Cuban right-hander is to show some consistency.
He’ll get that chance when the New York Yankees resume their interleague series with the Mets at Shea Stadium.
Contreras has found himself under a cloud of uncertainty since he defected in October, 2002, and it appeared to affect his pitching at times. He struggled with his command earlier this season, and was sent to the minors from May 4-22 to work on it.
Though Contreras went 3-1 with a 4.84 ERA in his next five starts once he returned to the Yankees, many were still wondering if he’d ever live up to his four-year, $32 million contract.
Contreras’ struggles on the mound were amplified by his family being barred from leaving Cuba. However, he was finally reunited with his wife, Miriam Murillo, and daughters Naylan, 11, and Naylenis, 3, in Miami on June 22.
His family was in attendance at Yankee Stadium on Sunday and watched Contreras baffle the Mets for six innings before he had to leave with a cramp in his right arm. Contreras finished the day with a career-high 10 strikeouts and got the win in the Yankees’ 8-1 victory.
“In my previous outings, I had been getting my rhythm, getting more comfortable on the mound,” Contreras said. “The arrival of my family just gave me more motivation to go out and do well. I’ve prepared like normal for my outing, so hopefully Saturday I can continue to build on it.”
He expects the Mets to be better prepared this time.
”(The Mets) have been studying me after the game I pitched against them, but I definitely gained some knowledge from facing them, too,” Contreras said. “It’s not the same as watching them on video, so I know them a little better now.”
Yankees manager Joe Torre said Contreras needs to build off his first experience against the Mets.
“It’s important, because you don’t want to keep questioning it every time he goes to the mound,” Torre said. “The pressure was the last outing against the Mets, if he doesn’t pitch as well this time I think it’s just going to be bad outing, not a statement.”
The Mets made a statement on Friday in the series opener, ripping Mike Mussina for seven runs and nine hits over five innings in an 11-2 win. Kaz Matsui went 2-for-5 with two homers and five RBIs.
Winners of three of four, the Mets are just one game behind second-place Florida in the NL East.
Richard Hidalgo went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, and is batting .327 with five homers and 10 RBIs in 13 games with the Mets.
“It was the first time he had ever gotten traded, so he needed time to get acclimated and comfortable,” manager Art Howe said of Hidalgo, who was acquired from Houston on June 17. “He knows guys now and he knows he’s going to be in the lineup every day. And he’s done a nice job.”
The Yankees have won seven of 10 and lead second-place Boston by 8 1/2 games in the AL East.
STANDINGS (through July 1): Yankees - 1st place, AL East. Mets - 3rd place, 3 GB, NL East.
YANKEES PROBABLE STARTER: Contreras (5-3, 5.53 ERA). Contreras has pitched at least six innings in seven of his 12 starts. The league is hitting .239 against him.
METS PROBABLE STARTER: Matt Ginter (1-2, 4.53 ERA). Ginter is 0-2 with a 4.37 ERA in seven starts since beating Colorado on May 21. The 26-year-old right-hander was knocked around by the Yankees on Sunday, allowing seven runs and seven hits, including two homers, over just three innings in an 11-6 loss. Ginter has pitched at least six innings in just three of his nine starts.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Yankees - Gary Sheffield, .296 avg. and 53 RBIs; Alex Rodriguez, 19 HRs, 56 runs and 18 SBs. Mets - Mike Piazza, .314 avg., 16 HRs and 38 RBIs; Matsui, 46 runs; Matsui and Mike Cameron, 11 SBs.
INTERLEAGUE RECORDS: Yankees, 10-6; Mets, 8-8.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Yankees - 3B Rodriguez is hitting just .185 (5-for-27) with three RBIs over his last seven games. … 1B Jason Giambi, who is still weak from an intestinal parasite, could be used as a pinch-hitter this weekend. … GM Brian Cashman said RHP Orlando Hernandez, who is working his way back from rotator cuff surgery in the minors, needs at least two more starts at Triple-A Columbus before the Yankees will consider bringing him up. Mets - All of SS Matsui’s previous five home runs this season came leading off the first inning. He homered in the second and sixth innings on Friday. … RHP Steve Trachsel is 7-2 with a 1.59 ERA at Shea this season. … OF Hidalgo hit just four homers in 58 games for Houston prior to the trade.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Yankees - 22-17 on the road; Mets - 22-16 at home.
INJURIES: Yankees - RHP Kevin Brown (back), 15-day DL; RHP Jorge De Paula (elbow), 60-day DL; RHP Hernandez (shoulder), 60-day DL; RHP Steve Karsay (shoulder), 60-day DL; INF Travis Lee (shoulder), 60-day DL. Mets - C Vance Wilson (hamstring), 15-day DL; OF Karim Garcia (wrist), 15-day DL; RHP Grant Roberts (shoulder), 60-day DL; RHP Scott Strickland (elbow), 60-day DL; 1B Mo Vaughn (knee), 60-day DL.