<
>

Contreras dominant in first career start

DETROIT (AP) -- Jose Contreras made the New York Yankees'
rotation a little more crowded.

Contreras made an impressive pitch to remain a starter, allowing
two hits in seven innings in his first career start as the Yankees
beat Detroit 6-0 Friday night behind two homers by Jason Giambi.

"Of course I'd like to, but it's not my decision," Contreras
said about staying in the rotation. "I'm going to keep preparing
for whatever role I'm needed."

Contreras, who left Cuba and signed a $32 million, four-year
contract with New York in the offseason, got a one-start trial in
place of an injured David Wells.

But with a strong first start, Jeff Weaver's recent struggles
and owner George Steinbrenner's public wishes for Contreras to join
the rotation, the Cuban defector's stay might not be so brief.

"It's a nice problem to have," manager Joe Torre said. "In
this game, things have a way of working themselves out. I'm not
about to make any decision before I have to."

The Yankees have won three straight following a season-high
five-game skid, and coupled with Boston's loss in Toronto, they
moved a half-game ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East.

Detroit was shut out for the 10th time, in front of a crowd of
28,003, the largest at Comerica Park since opening day. The next
closest teams in the AL are Baltimore and Toronto with four
shutouts each.

Contreras posted a 15.63 ERA through his first six relief
appearances. But after struggling in his first game back from the
minors, Contreras allowed one hit in five scoreless innings his
past two outings.

"I gave him the lineup card after the game," Torre said.
"This was big for him."

Contreras didn't give up a hit until Kevin Witt -- the only Tiger
who had faced him -- doubled in the fifth. Witt faced Contreras in a
Triple-A game earlier this year.

Left fielder Juan Rivera helped Contreras out in the seventh
when he made a leaping catch over the left-field wall to deny
Dmitri Young a two-run homer.

Contreras had 49 strikes in his 81-pitch outing. He struck out
six and, walked one and had one wild pitch. His longest previous
outing was four innings last Saturday when Wells hurt his right
calf.

"I had pretty good control of all my pitches," he said through
an interpreter. "I felt really good."

The Yankees had used the same five-man rotation -- in the same
order -- for an AL-record 53 games until Contreras replaced Wells.
The Tigers have used the same five pitchers for all 52 games this
season, but have changed the order.

Antonio Osuna and Chris Hammond finished the four-hitter for New
York's fourth shutout of the season and first since April 17
against Toronto.

Giambi has struggled this season with a sore left knee and a
batting average of .214 entering the game. But he had no troubles
against the Tigers, hitting a two-run shot in the first against
Gary Knotts (2-4), a single in the fifth, and a solo shot in the
eighth for his 11th homer.

"That's as good as he's been at any time this year," Torre
said.

Hideki Matsui's groundout put New York ahead 3-0 in the third
inning, and Derek Jeter's two-run single made it 5-0 in the fourth.

"We fell behind early and never got a whole lot going,"
Detroit manager Alan Trammell said. "I don't know what else to
say."

Knotts gave up five runs on seven hits and three walks while
striking out four over 4 1/3 innings. He was replaced by Steve
Sparks after a 44-minute rain delay.

Contreras' first strikeout as a starter was against leadoff
hitter Alex Sanchez, who left Cuba eight years ago on a rickety,
wooden raft. In the second, Contreras hustled to first base to
complete a 3-6-1 double play.

Contreras struck out Brandon Inge to end the fifth inning, after
Sanchez reached first on Jeter's error, stole second and advanced
on a wild pitch.

"His split-finger is top shelf," Inge said. "I was looking
for a split-finger. I saw it was up, so I thought I could pull it.
It started above my belt and dropped into the dirt. I've never seen
one like that before. I swung, missed and said 'Wow.'"

Game notes
It was Giambi's 21st multihomer game, and first since April
8. ... The Yankees plan to start Wells at the end of next week. ...
Roger Clemens, who will make his second attempt at win No. 300 on
Sunday, said it was more important for him to sleep well Friday
because he always sleeps poorly the night before a game, regardless
of the significance. ... Trammell said Carlos Pena (left calf
strain) and Mike Maroth (right hamstring strain) will not go on the
disabled list. ... The 1998 Twins held the previous AL record for
having the same five-man rotation for 50 games.