Rockies to limit Cook to 70 pitches

DENVER -- Aaron Cook finally feels like he's part of a pennant race.

Colorado's ace right-hander learned Tuesday that he'll return to the mound Friday night against St. Louis, his first start since going on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder on Aug. 22.

The Rockies entered their game Tuesday night against San Diego with a four-game lead over San Francisco in the NL wild-card race.

Cook was an onlooker the last time the Rockies reached the playoffs, missing out on their incredible 21-1 run-up to the World Series in 2007 because of a strained side muscle that sidelined him for 11 weeks.

He returned for Game 4 of the World Series, allowing three runs over six stellar innings but couldn't prevent Boston from sweeping the Rockies for the title.

"Yeah, '07 was a totally different story. When I got hurt, I knew I was going to be gone for at least 60 days and we weren't even really in it when I got hurt," Cook said. "So, to be in a pennant run, to get hurt when I got hurt, this year stunk. I wasn't really concerned about starting. I just wanted to come back and help and be part of the team."

Manager Jim Tracy said Cook will be limited to 70 pitches.

"I don't care," Cook said. "I just want to go out there and do what I can. I mean, if I can get five innings, four innings, seven innings, whenever they feel it's time to hand the ball to somebody else, that's the beautiful thing about September is we've got 12 or 14 guys that can get the ball and run with it.

"So, I'll just do what I can as long as I can."

Ready to spell him if he runs into early trouble will be right-hander Jose Contreras, who is healthy again after straining his right thigh while running out a groundball on Sept. 10 in his second start in place of Cook.

Contreras' return will give the Rockies a chance to lighten the heavy workload of right-handed reliever Matt Daley, Tracy said.

Cook couldn't stop smiling after getting word from Tracy that he'll rejoin the rotation.

"Sometimes you come to the park you feel like you're not even part of the team because you're not participating," Cook said. "But at the same time you just get your work done and do what you can to help. And now that I'm getting the ball, I'll feel like I'm a little bit more a part of the team."

Cook was 10-6 with a 4.47 ERA when he left his last start on Aug. 21 in the fourth inning of a game against San Francisco.

Cook used the layoff as an opportunity to work on his changeup.

"It's not a pitch I'm going to rely on but if I need it and there's a good situation, I'll probably throw it," he said. "There's always positives and that's what you've got to take out of injuries. You can't just hang your head and say 'ho-hum, what about me?' You just continue to work and get better."

That's what closer Huston Street did when he went down with biceps tendinitis in his throwing arm earlier this month. Street retired the only two batters he faced in the seventh inning Tuesday night in his first action since Sept. 1.

Notoriously competitive, Street said he handled his injury well because the Rockies won nine of the first 10 games he was out.

"That made it much easier for me," Street said. "In those first uncertain days, we were winning, so I was able to concentrate on just getting healthy and ready to return for a playoff push."

On Saturday, Cook, Contreras and left-hander Jeff Francis, who has been sidelined all season following arm surgery, pitched a simulated game in Phoenix. Francis is preparing to pitch in the Arizona instructional league this fall, but Contreras and Cook were hoping to convince Tracy that they were ready to return to the mound this week.

"I told him on Saturday, just give me 20 minutes' notice, I'll be ready whenever you need me," Cook said. "Whether it's out of the bullpen or starting. It didn't matter to me, just so long as I can pitch and be a part of the team."

And a pennant race for once.