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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Cubs pitcher Mark Prior starts carefully


MESA, Ariz. -- Mark Prior needs a quick start and a healthy one. He's opened the last two seasons on the disabled list, a place he doesn't want to visit again.

That's why Prior said he is taking a deliberate approach to getting ready for another season.

Nearly a week into spring training, he still hadn't thrown off the mound when the Chicago Cubs held their first full-squad workout Tuesday.

Slowed by a two-week throat infection this winter - one that sent him to the emergency room - his early regimen has been limited to throwing off flat ground and working on endurance.

"I've been on throwing programs before, but this one is a little more structured, trying to build up arm strength," Prior said Tuesday. "I'm doing extended amounts of sets, throwing 20-25 at a certain distance and then taking a little break and going back a little bit farther. I think I'm responding to it well. We talked about it last year, that's how it would be - take it a little bit slower or a little bit more methodical."

Prior has pitched in just one regular spring training game the last two years. In 2004 he was hampered by Achilles tendinitis, and last year had a sore elbow.

"I know what my history's been," he said.

Prior said his arm is fine. After recovering from his elbow soreness last season, he took a line drive off the elbow, rebounded from that trip to the DL and finished 11-6 in 27 starts with a 3.67 ERA.

In 2003 when Chicago made a run for the World Series in Prior's first full major league season, the 6-5 right-hander went 18-6, including 10-1 in the final two months.

Hampered by the injuries, he's just 17-11 in the ensuing two seasons.

"I feel good. I felt good out there yesterday, and I expect to be on the mound here in a couple of days," he said. "My body feels good. I'm getting closer. It's a process to get ready for the season. It's not just show up and go to work. I don't feel sick and weak."

Cubs manager Dusty Baker is satisfied with where Prior is at this point in the spring.

"I mean the guy, he's progressing like we said," Baker said. "Mark's going good. I asked him. I get tired of asking how he's doing, actually. And I'm sure he's tired of answering the questions himself."


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