Nearing a Return

Two Cubs pitching prospects could be added to a minor league roster by the end of the month.

Right-hander Billy Petrick is throwing bullpen sessions in Arizona and could be assigned to a minor league affiliate by the end of May. That's the official word from both Petrick and Cubs Director of Player Development Oneri Fleita.

The 22-year-old Petrick was ranked the Cubs' fifth best prospect by Baseball America entering 2005, but made just nine starts for Class A Daytona a year ago. He underwent season-ending shoulder surgery to repair a slight tear in his labrum.

"I'm scheduled to make my first two-inning start Wednesday in Mesa," Petrick said over the weekend. "My shoulder feels really good at the moment. No pain at all."

Petrick was 1-4 with a 5.59 ERA at Daytona a season ago and averaged barely four innings per start. The previous year at Lansing in 2004, he racked up 13 wins and 113 strikeouts in 146 2/3 innings for a 3.50 ERA.

"I've been able to throw all of my pitches without any pain. Everything feels really strong," the third-round Cubs draft pick from 2002 added. "My slider feels strong and I knew that was going to be the hardest pitch to throw when I came back."

Barring setbacks, Petrick hopes to be back on the mound in a live game by the end of the month. He says the Cubs have given him a "round-about" return date of May 23, at which point he would be assigned to a minor league affiliate.

"If all goes well, I would be throwing a five-inning game by the 22nd," he said. "That's what would clear me. Anything could happen, but I'm looking forward to it. I'm chomping at the bit to get back out there."

BLASKO NEXT? Uber-prospect Chadd Blasko is also nearing return, per the Cubs. Blasko hasn't made a start in almost two years, but was one of the Cubs' top minor league performers in 2003 at Daytona.

The Purdue alumnus and former first-round draft pick was 10-5 with a 1.98 ERA in the Florida State League, striking out 131 and walking 43 in 136 1/3 innings. He missed the second half of 2004 and all of '05 after undergoing shoulder surgery.

"Chadd is looking great," Fleita said in Spring Training. "He'll probably spend a few weeks here just to make sure that he is ready to go. But he's healthy, and that's the best news we've been able to give about Blasko in a while."

Fleita added over the weekend, "Both he and Petrick have a really good chance to be somewhere in our farm system by the end of the month."

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