By LENN ROBBINS | NY Post
This was a tough season for Jose Contreras, and losing the World Series to the Marlins was the final hurt.
Contreras, the former Cuban national star who signed a free-agent deal with the Yankees in February, spoke yesterday about the difficulties of adjusting to major league hitters, the frustration of being apart from his wife and children, who remain in Cuba, and the uncertainty of being used as a reliever, as well as a starter.
“It was a very difficult season,” Contreras said yesterday at the Stadium, where he cleaned out his locker stall. “I had never been a reliever in my life. The first half of the season, that was my role. It took some time to get used to. Then when I was a starter, came the injury and I was away from the team for two months and that was very difficult.”
Contreras missed 67 games with a strained right shoulder from early June through late August. He was an effective starter when he returned, but with Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, David Wells and Mike Mussina, Contreras was back in the pen for the playoffs.
When Wells left Game 5 after one inning with back spasms, Contreras was touched for four earned runs in three innings of a 6-4 loss. The Yankees surely will have spots to fill in their starting rotation.
Clemens has announced his retirement. Wells might have made it easy for the Yankees not to pick up his $7 million option. And Jeff Weaver might have sealed his fate with the 12th-inning walkoff home run he gave up to Alex Gonzalez in Game 4. Contreras will be given every chance to start.
“That’s what I expect and I’m going to work for it,” he said.
Contreras also expected to have an easier time of it. But the new role, the injury, and the quality of hitters he faced on a daily basis provided a rude welcome.
“I had faced professionals before in national competition, but maybe those were Triple-A or Double-A hitters,” he said. “These guys were a lot better and I didn’t expect it be this difficult for me.”
Contreras hopes next season will be easier if his wife, Miriam, and two children are allowed to join him in the United States.
“It’s been a year since I’ve seen my daughters and my wife, a difficult year not seeing them,” said Contreras. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but I have to do something. I know the attorneys have been working on it and I hope the Cuban government doesn’t delay the process of letting me be reunited with my family.”