Prior Taking It Day-By-Day

A few days before the exhibition season started for the Cubs in 2004, the team announced pitcher Mark Prior would miss one to two weeks with an Achilles tendon injury.<p> Instead, he missed all of the exhibition games and two months of the regular season with Achilles and elbow problems.

After going 18-6 in 2003, big things were expected from Prior. And after missing the two months, he went 4-4 with a 4.69 ERA in his first 16 appearances. Even though he was red hot in September (2-0 with a 2.17 ERA with seven walks and 43 strikeouts in five appearances), the Cubs were not able to follow his lead and fell out of playoff contention in the final week of the season.

Could things have turned out differently for the team if Prior had not been injured? That's something fans will never know for sure. As for Prior, he is just thinking about 2005.

"It's a new year, and I'm taking it day-by-day," Prior said. "One of the things I learned from last year is that if something happens, you have to move on. Last year is over and done with. It was a frustrating year.

"It's not the best year I've ever had, but that's life. You have to move on and try to help this team win ballgames this year."

Since the injury, the 24-year-old Prior made sure he changed his training drills. The long-distance running was out.

"I've done more cycling than long-distance running," Prior said. "And it seemed to take a lot of the stress off of it. I didn't let up by any means. I just changed things.

"I wasn't a marathon runner, but I did a lot of running in between starts. Now I try to get out once in between starts. It doesn't bother me too much in the sprints. The long, slow pounding was hurting it. That seemed to bother it more."

NOTES, QUOTES

—CF Corey Patterson figures to remain the team's leadoff man even though the Cubs traded for INF-OF Jerry Hairston. Hairston likely will be a backup to LF Todd Hollandsworth and 2B Todd Walker.

—RHP Ryan Dempster is a top candidate for the closer's spot but has been conditioning as a starter. LHP Glendon Rusch and RHP Sergio Mitre are candidates for the No. 5 spot, but Rusch could end up in the bullpen if manager Dusty Baker doesn't like what he sees out of the plethora of lefty candidates.

—RHP Joe Borowski's velocity is back. After his velocity dipped during an injury-filled 2004 season, he is touching 90 mph on the radar gun and could make a move to reclaim the closer's role. Borowski had 33 saves in 2003.

BY THE NUMBERS:
2—Players in the Cubs organization who will be given Boston Red Sox World Series rings this year: Nomar Garciaparra, who played with the Sox until he was traded on July 31, and Jimmy Anderson, who started the season with the Cubs, was traded to the Sox, made five appearances with them and was traded back to the Cubs.

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"Let's hope that it does what it's supposed to do. It's supposed to deter the use of steroids. That's what it's designed to do. I think it's designed to deter rather than to try to catch guys. To stop it is what you want to accomplish." —Cubs manager Dusty Baker on the new steroid testing and punishment policies.


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