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Cook, Contreras could return soon

Cook, Contreras could return soon

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PHOENIX -- Rockies right-hander Aaron Cook feels closer to the first meaningful September of his career. If he continues to feel as good as he felt after Saturday's simulated game at Chase Field, his chance will come.

The question is when and in what capacity.

Cook, who hasn't pitched since leaving a start on Aug. 21 with shoulder soreness, passed his second simulated game with flying colors. Right-hander Jose Contreras, coming back from a right quadriceps strain, also felt good in the simulated game. To boot, he performed much better in mobility drills than manager Jim Tracy expected.

So the Rockies have options. Either Cook or Contreras -- or both in a piggy-back manner -- could pitch Thursday against the Padres. Or righty Jason Hammel, the starter Saturday night against the D-backs, could pitch Thursday on normal rest and have Cook, Contreras or both go next Saturday.

"I think I'm ready," said Cook, who said he was even able to hone his changeup -- a pitch he didn't use much early in the year. "It just all depends on what they feel at the time. If they want me to start or if they need me to pitch out of the bullpen, or whatever, I'll do what they need me to do. I would rather start, but what Tracy decides is best is what I'll do."

The time off also gave his right foot extra healing time. Cook suffered a hyperextension of the big toe around midseason, and at times suffered to pitch through it.

Cook suffered an oblique strain in August 2007 and missed the run that put the Rockies into the playoffs. Cook did return to throw Game 4 of the World Series -- a strong effort, even though the Red Sox won and completed a sweep.

"I'm excited," Cook said. "We're in a position where these games mean a lot, so I'd love to be out there and be a part of it."

Tracy said he didn't want to commit to his plan until he sees how the pitchers feel between now and the latter part of the week.

According to Tracy, Contreras moved much better than he did earlier in the week, when he threw well but could not come close to making fielding plays. There remains question about his ability to, say, cover first base on a ball to the right side, but the progress he has made in the last several days has surprised Tracy.

Tracy also said left-hander Jeff Francis, who hasn't pitched in a game all year because of shoulder surgery during Spring Training, and righty prospect Esmil Rogers are being sent to the Rockies' instructional program in Tucson.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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