Prior allows two hits, fans eight in '04 debut

CHICAGO -- Mark Prior's return was well worth the wait.
Unfortunately, the Chicago Cubs failed to score a run for him.

After missing the first two months of the season with an
inflamed right Achilles tendon, Prior pitched six scoreless
innings Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

However, the slumping Cubs were locked in a scoreless tie with
the Pirates until scoring a run in the eighth inning.

Cubs manager Dusty Baker did not want Prior to throw more than
six innings and had to be delighted with what he saw on Friday.
Prior, who retired the first 13 batters he faced, allowed only two singles, struck out eight and walked none.

Prior's return couldn't come at a better time with the Cubs
(27-25) having lost seven of their last nine games.

Injuries have taken a toll on the Cubs, who are also without
slugger Sammy Sosa, star pitcher Kerry Wood, shortstop Alex Gonzalez and second baseman Mark Grudzielanek.

Prior, who finished third in National League Cy Young Award
voting last year, went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts
in 2003 -- his first full major league season.

Along with activating Prior from the 60-day disabled list, the
Cubs also activated reliever Kent Mercker from the 15-day DL on
Friday, but will be without Gonzalez for at least another two
months. Gonzalez was transferred to the 60-day disabled list and
pitcher Michael Wuertz was optioned to Triple-A Iowa.

Mercker, 36, had been bothered by back stiffness. He
last pitched on May 15 and is 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA in 19

Gonzalez suffered a broken bone in his right wrist in a May 5
game against Arizona.