Mike Hampton isn't the only high-profile pitcher with something to prove this season. Here are five others whose spring training progress will be closely scrutinized.
Bartolo Colon, RH, White Sox Pairing this 20-game winner with lefthander Mark Buehrle, who won 19 last year, gives Chicago one of the league's best one-two punches. But last season Colon, 29, who lives and dies by his triple-digit heater, threw a career-high 233? innings and fanned a career-low 5.7 batters per nine innings; he also had a 4.97 ERA in September. He must reestablish his dominance.
Jose Contreras, RH, Yankees The 31-year-old Cuban defector boasts a mid-90s fastball plus a solid splitter and slider, but he'll have to battle righthander Jeff Weaver for the fifth spot in New York's crowded rotation. This spring Contreras's stuff will get its first test against big league hitters since a 1999 exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles; if he falters, he'll become the Yankees' latest luxury: baseball's first $8 million middle reliever.
Danny Graves, RH, Reds Last season Cincinnati starting pitchers had a 4.69 ERA, fourth worst in the National League, and averaged a league-low 5.4 innings per start. To boost the lackluster rotation, Graves, 29, who has saved at least 27 games in four straight seasons, was relocated from the bullpen in September and went 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA in a four-start test-drive. He must prove that he has the stamina to work deep into games and the arsenal of pitches to complement his sinker and make him effective for three or four trips through the batting order.
Kazuhisa Ishii, LH, Dodgers As a 29-year-old rookie he was 14-10 with a 4.27 ERA despite a league-high 106 walks. But his season ended badly on Sept. 8, when he was struck in the forehead by a Brian Hunter line drive that fractured his skull. The easygoing Ishii says he isn't gun-shy and has tweaked his follow-through to improve his fielding position, but similar injuries have derailed careers before ( Boston's Bryce Florie, Cleveland's Herb Score).
Jason Isringhausen, RH, Cardinals He saved 32 games last season but suffered elbow and shoulder injuries, lost a few miles per hour on his fastball and by the fall couldn't work more than an inning per appearance. In October he underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn right labrum—the fifth operation of his career—and his rehabilitation is ahead of schedule, but he may not be ready by Opening Day. He must quickly reestablish the arm strength, durability and velocity that made him a dominant closer.