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Sunday, April 18, 2004
Prior likely to throw off mound again Wednesday

ESPN.com news services

CHICAGO -- Though Cubs officials told The Chicago Tribune on Friday that they would not rush Mark Prior back, and acknowledged to the newspaper that their right-hander could be out for the season, the organization said Sunday on its Web site that Prior is making progress.

Prior, who has been nursing injuries to his right Achilles tendon and his right elbow, played catch on Sunday, and felt no pain in either injury after throwing off the mound twice last week. The Cubs' Web site said he will likely throw off the mound again Monday. Prior threw about 35 pitches on Friday, doubling the number of throws from his first mound session Wednesday.

By Saturday, manager Dusty Baker was encouraged, saying, "Prior isn't out for the season." On Sunday, the Cubs' Web site quoted Baker insisting on this point: "Prior's not out for the season."

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild also was encouraged by Prior's latest outing, but he told the Tribune that a "chain reaction" could occur if Prior resumed pitching before he was totally pain-free. The Cubs have said they hope to have their 23-year-old star back by early to mid-May, but they certainly don't know for sure when Prior will return.

"No, it's not even close," Rothschild told the newspaper. "Even if I could, I wouldn't [speculate when he might return] until he has been on the mound and is just about ready to face hitters."

Manager Dusty Baker even addressed the possibility of Prior not pitching in a game this season.

"Now, can we win without him over the course of the whole year? Yes, we can," Baker told the newspaper. "But the job will be a lot more difficult."

Prior took Saturday off after Friday's throws.

"He threw it good and he didn't have any soreness today and that's a very positive sign. He's not out for the season," Baker reiterated.

Trainer Dave Groeschner said Prior's Achilles and elbow felt good Saturday, and Prior probably would throw on flat ground Sunday and get back on the mound Wednesday.

"As he feels better and better, he'll do more and more," Rothschild told the paper. "It's more important to see how he feels after today. He has to be pain free, both in his arm and his Achilles.

"We have to make sure both issues are covered, because we don't want a chain reaction to happen. That's what we're guarding against."

"I wasn't airing it out," Prior said. "I'm just trying to find the release point, trying to find my mechanics right now. It didn't hurt today. Hopefully it doesn't hurt tomorrow."

Prior has only thrown fastballs, and he said his body will be tested more when he starts throwing curveballs and breaking balls.

"I'll hopefully start moving in that direction Sunday, Monday, see how I respond to that and then go from there," he said.

"He has to get his delivery where it needs to be and not put undue stress on the shoulder or arm," Rothschild told The Tribune. "As we go forward and his velocity increases, this is what we'll have to watch."

Prior said that the Achilles injury was actually more his ankle. Bone scans showed problems in the ankle, and pain from that transferred to his Achilles, causing some inflammation.

Groeschner said the two are related.

"All the stretching we're doing with his Achilles, we're also working on the ankle," Groeschner said.

Prior was 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and helped the Cubs reach the NL championship series last season.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.