Contreras could be close to returning

(David M Warren/Staff Photographer)

This could be a big day for Jose Contreras.

Earlier this week, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. indicated that the 40-year-old reliever was scheduled to pitch back-to-back days Thursday and Friday, marking the first time since his September elbow surgery that he has pitched on consecutive days.

That's an important step for any reliever because of the unpredictably of when you might be needed to pitch. A bullpen guy who cannot pitch back-to-back days is generally considered a liability.

"Go back to back," Amaro said Wednesday when asked what Contreras needed to do to prove he was ready to come off the disabled list. "He's gone really well. Right now, he's just going through that normal spring-training progression. He doesn't have any pain and he hasn't had any symptoms. Now, it's just a matter of him getting to the point where he's sharp and ready to go back to back and to be comfortable doing that without any issues. Once that happens, we'll make a decision on activating him."

Contreras has made four rehab appearances at single-A Clearwater. The middle two were outstanding. He struck out four batters in two innings and retired all six batters he faced. The first one -- 11 pitches, four strikes, two wild pitches, two hits, three runs and a home run -- was a disaster in which he struggled with his command.

In his latest outing Thursday against the Lakeland Flying Tigers, Contreras went one inning and allowed three hits and a run. He again struck out two batters.

If the Phillies decide Contreras is ready to return, they will have a roster decision to make with either righthander David Herndon or lefthander Joe Savery likely being optioned to triple-A Lehigh Valley.