CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jose Contreras cleared another hurdle in his bid to return from elbow surgery Friday morning.
With catcher Brian Schneider in the batter's box, pitching coach Rich Dubee behind the mound and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. behind the batting cage, the 40-year-old righthander threw another round of live batting practice at Bright House Field after the Phillies' team bus departed for an away game against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Fla.
"He looked real good and he came off the mound and felt really good about himself, so that's a good sign," Amaro said.
The next progression for Contreras will be pitching in a Grapefruit League game and Amaro said the veteran reliever "is getting close" to taking that step.
Amaro indicated that as long as Contreras does not have any setbacks, he should be ready for the start of the season April 5 in Pittsburgh.
If Contreras is healthy and ready, it would give manager Charlie Manuel a fourth late-inning option out of the bullpen to bridge the gap to closer Jonathan Papelbon. Mike Stutes and Antonio Bastardo served in that role last season for the Phillies and veteran reliever Chad Qualls, signed as a free agent late in the offseason, has plenty of experience in the setup role.
In his two seasons with the Phillies, Contreras has been effective when healthy. He has appeared in 84 games and gone 6-4 with a 3.44 ERA while converting nine of 10 save opportunities. He pitched in just 17 games last season before being shut down because of an elbow issue that eventually required surgery.