Prior Talks About Progress

PEORIA -- Mark Prior was in Peoria again Saturday for his second rehab start with the Class-A Chiefs. His performance was undoubtedly several steps up from his previous outing on Memorial Day, when he reached his pitch count after only two innings.

After a scoreless first inning in that game, Prior allowed a homer in the second. Three singles and an error followed, which led to two more runs. He never surpassed 90 mph on the radar gun and his final line read: three runs (two earned), three strikeouts and no walks on 44 pitches, 28 for strikes.

The session was essentially a glorified batting practice as Prior said he only threw four off-speed pitches. On Saturday, however, Prior treated the Fort Wayne Wizards to his full repertoire of pitches and employed the pitch selection he would use if pitching in the big leagues.

"The goal tonight was to try to find my breaking ball and I think I did that," he said after the game.

The Chiefs ultimately lost, 2-0, and Prior finished with 59 pitches (43 for strikes) over five innings. He allowed three hits, one run, and struck out five without a walk.

"I was happy with the way I threw the ball, the way my fastball was moving," Prior said. "My slurve was real good. My changeup was, for me, as good as it's been."

Prior cruised through the first three innings, striking out two and allowing only an infield single. In the fourth, he ran into some small trouble before responding.

Seth Johnston and Nic Crosta led off the inning with a pair of doubles to make the score 1-0. At that point, Prior later said he was "able to kind of find another gear."

After Crosta's run-scoring double, Prior's next pitch was a wild fastball that sailed over catcher Mark Reed's glove and slammed the backstop. The ball ricocheted directly back to Reed, and Crosta was unable to advance to third.

Prior then harnessed his adrenaline and struck out the next three batters on only 10 pitches.

In the fifth, he finished the game in a return to his earlier, efficient form by retiring the side on only eight pitches, seven of which were strikes.

Afterward, Prior said he felt good and was pleased with his pitching. The area to address now is his ability to go deeper into ballgames.

"I think right now its just stamina," he said. "I threw 60 pitches. I'm assuming they're going to want me to be up somewhere [around] 90 before they are comfortable putting me in a game at [the major league] level."

Prior again failed to reach his full potential velocity-wise, but said he was not concerned.

"I don't really pay attention to what it says on the gun," said Prior, who topped out at 90 mph several times. "A lot of the time, they're wrong. A lot of times, they don't mean anything. What I see, what I look for and what I watch for are people's swings. You watch the contact, you watch the bat."

"You're looking for people's swings," he continued. "Awkward swings, check swings. I don't personally worry about it. I know I'm getting close. My breaking ball speeds were right where they normally are. My changeup speeds were 81 to 86 mph. They're where they normally are. The fastball will come. I've always been a guy who takes a while to get going."

Recently, Prior shucked a Molotov cocktail on the powder keg that is the paranoia surrounding his health when he referred to his shoulder injury as a "tear." Given the non-stop media and fan inquiry, both Prior and Kerry Wood are becoming understandably guarded and defensive about their injuries.

So when Prior thought a reporter was downplaying his "moderately strained" shoulder and implying that he was dawdling in his rehab, the right-hander defended himself and in doing so sparked a minor public relations chuckle.

Cubs Trainer Mark O'Neal was called in to give a lesson in the vernacular of sports medicine and briefed reporters on this type of shoulder injury. He explained that a "strain" is nothing more than a series of micro tears.

There are three Grades of this injury, O'Neal explained, and Prior's Grade 2 "moderate strain" never requires surgery. Grade 3 is a complete tear.

"Now a Grade 4, this here is the worst, boys," O'Neal said before pretending to rip off his entire left arm in demonstration.

The attendance for Prior's second game in Peoria was announced at 6,838. His start on Memorial Day drew 5,865. A total of 8,426 turned out for Wood's rehab appearance last month.

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