Originally posted on Phillies Nation  |  Last updated 2/27/12

Jose Contreras may be ready for Opening Day after season-ending elbow surgery in 2011.

It seemed that every time Jose Contreras’s name was mentioned last summer, it preceded the word “setback.” That he arrived in Clearwater last week feeling good and has taken legitimate steps toward recovering from a balky elbow has been an extremely pleasant surprise for the Phillies, who suddenly have a wealth of late-inning relief options.

Contreras threw again Monday after two days of rest and signs were positive enough that there is now a chance he could be ready for Opening Day. When asked about Big Truck, Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said “He’s where we hoped he’d be at, that’s always good to see.”

What does a healthy Contreras mean?

Well, should Contreras make the Phils’ Opening Day 25-man roster, he, Chad Qualls and Antonio Bastardo figure to fight for a setup role that would probably be best served going to the hottest hand or the best matchup.

A side effect of Contreras being ready for April 5 in Pittsburgh would be fierce competition for the final bullpen spot among the Phillies’ plethora of young relievers. Prior to the ink drying on Qualls’ one-year deal, it looked as though Michael Stutes and Justin De Fratus were locks for the Opening Day roster and Michael Schwimer, Phillippe Aumont, Joel Pineiro and David Herndon would compete for the 12th spot on the pitching staff.

With Contreras healthy, Stutes, De Fratus, Schwimer, Aumont, Pineiro and Herndon would all be competing for one spot. All of this assumes the Phillies begin the season with 13 position players and 12 pitchers.

Though Contreras’s presence might stunt the short-term growth of the Phils’ young arms, this isn’t a Danys Baez-type of situation where an older, lesser option is being given a roster spot simply because of his price tag. Contreras is due $2.5 million in 2012 and either $2.5 million in 2013 or a $500,000 buyout, but when healthy he has been worth every penny.

In 2010, Contreras struck out almost four times as many batters as he walked, limited the opposition to a .249 batting average and induced a swing-and-miss on 10.5 percent of his pitches. Those were elite numbers that appeared to carry over into 2011 until elbow problems took miles per hour off Contreras’ fastball and messed with his previously pinpoint control.

Contreras’s presence at the back-end of the bullpen wasn’t something many Phillies fans were expecting in 2012, and too often since 2009 have Phillies injury updates been negative. It’s nice to get a positive report every once in a while.

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