PEORIA, Ariz. -- Rangers veteran Jose Contreras is in his 40s, said he feels like he's in his 20s, and he is determined to recapture the magic that made him a big league star in his 30s.
"I've played professionally for 25 years and I still have the same desire for this sport that I had when I first started," Contreras, 42, said. "I'm feeling strong and I'm going to try to make this team. I'm healthy and that wasn't always the case last year."
Contreras, who spent last season with the Pirates and the Red Sox organizations, made seven relief appearances for the Pirates in May, allowing five runs in five innings. He went 2-3 with a 3.00 ERA in 27 relief appearances in the Minor Leagues.
Overall, Contreras is 78-67 with a 4.57 ERA since making his big league debut with the Yankees in 2003 at age 31. He had Tommy John surgery on June 20, 2012.
"I love this game so much and that's why I'm here," Contreras said. "Even my own teammates ask me why I keep playing at my age, but people forget that I played in Cuba for over 10 years and I didn't make any money. I didn't play for the money then and I don't play for the money or fame now. I play because I love this game. This is my passion. I'm just fortunate I have a family that understands and supports me."
Contreras is being stretched out as a starter, but his best chance to make the team might come as a long reliever. On Thursday, he gave up two hits in three scoreless innings against the Padres.
"His split was really working and once again, it was his second time and he made some adjustments," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He knows what he is doing out there. He knows those guys might be sitting on fastballs and he starts first-pitch breaking balls, first-pitch splits. He threw the ball inside and threw the ball down and away. His velocity was better than it was the first time, too."
Contreras gave up four runs on six hits in one inning against the Royals in his previous appearance this spring.
"My wife and my family love baseball as much as I do and I also do this for them," he said. "The other day I didn't get great results and my young son comes up to me and says 'C'mon Dad, you're going to have to do better than that. You're not going to make the team pitching like that.'"
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.