Sunday, March 11, 2007

prior falls out of fifth starter race

the tribune reports:

After meeting Sunday morning with Prior, manager Lou Piniella said the right-hander will pitch in a minor-league game Thursday.

"What we want Prior to do is continue to get his work, and whether it's the major-league level or the minor-league level, it doesn't make any difference," Piniella said. "He can go down there and relax and just pitch. I had a nice meeting with him, got a little game plan going forward."

Asked about Prior's mind-set, Piniella said Prior is eager to return to the form of three or four years ago but then referred to him as a kid whose "confidence is playing with him a little bit."

When Prior was asked about Piniella's comment on his apparent lack of confidence, he replied, "We had a meeting. It's really not that big of a deal. He has meetings with everybody. That's what managers are here for."

Prior insisted he was OK with the idea of pitching to minor-leaguers instead of in a Cactus League game.

"It's fine," Prior said. "I'm throwing. … They wanted me to throw in a minor-league game. It happens all the time."

But when it happens to a pitcher who finished third in Cy Young Award voting only four years ago, it's a major story.

"Look, this is the right approach," Piniella said. "If I didn't think it was the right approach, we wouldn't send him down there. Get him to go down there and relax, and just pitch. He doesn't have to answer to the media. Hopefully you guys will all be over [at HoHoKam Park] at the 'A' game. Leave him alone, and let him pitch."

the battle for the final rotation spot -- after carlos zambrano, ted lilly, jason marquis and rich hill -- is down to wade miller, neal cotts and angel guzman. but concern has to follow prior, who now looks to be pitching in some respects for his professional career. the blunt assessments of piniella mark just how far prior's star has fallen from 2003.

Piniella said Prior has thrown 15 or 16 breaking balls in his two outings, "and he hasn't thrown one for a strike."

but it remains the comments of prior himself that trouble this page most.

Prior acknowledged he has had mechanical problems he needs to correct.

"That's part of it," he said. "Things haven't felt as good as I would've hoped to feel, but just keep working. That's all I can say.

"You guys are looking for an answer, something to latch onto. It's more feelings of what you know and what you feel. … There's nothing I can put into words. It's just something you know and you feel. You know what you've got to do, and you know where you've got to be."

on the heels of last week's comments:

“Go out, get my work in and hope it goes well,” he said. “For me, everything’s kind of over and done with. I can’t really dwell on it. I know it’s good storylines and fills pages, but what’s done is done and over with, and I’m moving on and just worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow.

“Everybody’s been kind of writing me off anyway. It seems a lot of you are still at my locker every day. I know if I go out there and pitch and keep pitching every fifth day, there’s no story. It really doesn’t affect me. It doesn’t bother me. I’m just doing everything I can to pitch. Until my body tells me otherwise, I just keep going about my business.”

“I just do what I do,” he said. “When people were blowing me up after ’02 and ’03, it didn’t really change the way I approach things at all. Obviously, things have turned, but that’s just the nature of the business. It’s, ‘What have you done lately, and what are you going to do for me tomorrow?’

“It doesn’t change the focus of what I’ll put into a game or the way I prepare for game. I don’t work one way or another based on how things are going.

“If I prove I’m healthy, I’ll have a position (on the team). At the end of the spring, if (because of) numbers or crunch time where that is, who knows? That’s not really up to me. The only thing I’m focused on is going out and pitching.”

"hope it goes well"... "everything's kinda over and done with"... "everybody’s been kind of writing me off anyway"... "if I prove I’m healthy"... this isn't a man brimming over with purpose and confidence, and his (probably subconscious) use of language that carries obvious double meaning is disturbing.

this writer has no idea how prior's shoulder feels, but -- in light not only of such comments but of performance -- it begs credulity to presume that there's no pain there. managing a consistent fastball only in the mid-80s last week, prior was crushed again saturday.

Prior allowed four runs on four hits and three walks in two innings of relief in a 6-5 loss to Kansas City on Saturday, throwing 40 pitches, including 20 strikes. He picked up a little speed on his fastball, going from the mid-80s in his first outing to 86 to 88 m.p.h. Saturday and topping out at 89.

But Prior has an 18.90 ERA, and of the 34 swings taken against him in his two outings, only three have missed, an alarming ratio. Prior threw more breaking balls than usual Saturday but couldn't throw them for strikes.

watching it -- the game was carried in chicagoland -- was far worse than that description. no one can say for certain what velocity he had -- the radar gun was reading erratically all game long -- but kansas city's minor leaguers had no difficulty at all getting around on prior's fastball even when off the plate inside. and both fastball and curve were off the plate all the time -- neither prior nor henry blanco seemed to have any idea where the ball was going. no velocity, no location, no secondary pitch... prior looked a beaten man, and this decision by piniella and the club almost seems an afterthought.

again, one should not overestimate how damaging this may be to the 2007 cubs. for all that's been said and believed this spring (as every spring) in the hubris of the return of the game, this club is no offensive powerhouse and will need good starting pitching to win -- and that, in the estimation here, put the weight of the season on rich hill and mark prior.

without prior, the margin for further error has already whittled down to a precious little.

No comments: