Wood, Prior make long-awaited debuts
Righties healthy after pitching in first Cactus game since '05
PEORIA, Ariz. -- For the first time in what seems like forever, both Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were able to focus on throwing strikes and not whether their arms hurt.
Prior threw 40 pitches, including 19 strikes, over 1 1/3 innings against the Seattle Mariners on Monday in the Cubs' 6-5 win, while Wood threw 12 pitches (eight strikes) in one inning in relief. It was the first Cactus League appearance for both Cubs pitchers since 2005. Both said they felt good, but Wood was more impressive. Cubs manager Lou Piniella said he wants Wood, converted from starter to reliever, to keep throwing exactly as he did on Monday.
"That's 95 miles an hour nice and easy coming out of his hand," Piniella said of Wood. "When I saw him throw the first five or six pitches, I said, 'I've had a good day already.' Really, really nice the way it came out of his hand, and he felt good about himself."
Prior, on the other hand, was a little "off." Radar guns clocked him in the low 80s.
"I wasn't finishing my pitches," Prior said. "Things were live for a change, and for the most part, I got out there and I threw and it feels good and it's been almost 2 1/2 years since I wasn't more worried about my arm than the batters, so that was a nice feeling."
Prior, who spent the winter rehabbing his right shoulder, was charged with three runs on four hits and two walks, and threw strike one to only one of the nine batters he faced, Kenji Johjima, leading off the second inning.
"I'm not happy with the way I threw," Prior said. "I'm more happy with the fact that I was able to get in a game. You'd rather reverse that and make it eight out of nine first-pitch strikes. It makes it a lot easier."
Johjima eventually singled, and Prior then fell behind, 2-0, to Mike Morse, prompting a visit from pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
Morse and Jeremy Reed hit back-to-back doubles, and Yuniesky Betancourt then grounded out, prompting Prior to be pulled. Prior said the only ball he felt he threw well was the one Reed hit off the center-field wall.
"I wouldn't say I was comfortable out there as far as pitching and obviously executing pitches," Prior said. "But for the most part, going out there and feeling comfortable and confident that everything's intact and feeling good, it's been a long time. I felt pretty good. It's different, definitely different."
"I only saw fastballs," said Seattle's Willie Bloomquist, the first batter Prior faced. "I know he was probably trying to locate. I saw all four seamers. There was a little movement on the inside pitches and pretty straight [on the one's] away. I didn't see any offspeed pitches at all."
Prior has been throwing for nearly two months, so he knew his arm was ready. But he hasn't been in a game since last August.
"Obviously, you get in to face hitters and it's a little different atmosphere, and you can't really prepare for it," he said. "For me, going out there and pitching in a game was what I was most concerned about, and I got through that and battled, and it was good."
The plan was for the right-hander to throw 35 pitches over two innings, but he reached his pitch count limit early.
"Obviously, he needs to throw the ball better -- let's be perfectly honest," Piniella said. "I think he knows that, too. At the same time, you've got to get started somewhere. He threw his allotment of pitches, and we got him out of there. Hopefully he comes to the ballpark [Tuesday] and doesn't feel any stiffness or discomfort, and he gets into a regular routine. I think the next time out, he'll feel better about himself and pitch with more confidence."
This was Prior's first spring start since March 10, 2005, which also was against the Mariners in Peoria. That had been his only Cactus League appearance from 2004-06.
"I feel happy, but I don't," Prior said. "I think if I look at the bigger picture here, it's a step in the right direction."
What does it mean to not finish pitches?
"It could be a number of things," Prior said. "It's weird -- I was talking to Larry, and he said, 'You haven't done that all spring.' I really haven't thrown that way. I was just flying off pitches. Maybe it's just seeing hitters where it actually means something and they're not knowing what's coming. In [batting practice], you don't care if they hit the ball 700 yards."
The problem, most likely, is lack of pitching.
"I haven't been on a consistent pitching basis since '05," Prior said. "I'll get back to work this week and move on."
Wood, 29, was limited to four starts from May 18-June 6 last season as he tried to come back from arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder. He was shut down after being diagnosed with a partial tear in his right rotator cuff, and reported this spring 25 pounds lighter.
"I've been ready to go this spring," Wood said. "It's nice to get some adrenaline running through your body for the first time in a while."
He was pretty amped up, and admitted that his heart was racing. He got Adrian Beltre to ground out, struck out Jose Guillen on a slider, and got Richie Sexson to pop up in the fifth. Wood didn't need to have a successful outing to answer any questions about his health.
"They were answered for me," he said. "I knew. I was confident coming into camp that I'd put the work in that I needed to do. I felt strong coming into camp, as strong as I have as a starter in a long time. I felt I was much stronger than I have been in previous years."
Wood and Prior were considered the cornerstones of the Cubs pitching staff. Instead, injuries have kept the two on the side, and either Prior or Wood has been on the disabled list for 430 of 859 days since Prior was called up to the big leagues on May 22, 2002.
"Seeing him on the mound before I went out there was nice," Wood said. "I told him when he came in [to the clubhouse] -- he wasn't happy or pleased with his outing, but I said, 'It's nice to see you with a baseball in your hand on the mound 60 feet away from the hitters.' I think it was a good day for both of us."
Prior made nine starts last season, and came into camp without a spot guaranteed in the rotation. Wood now is designated for the bullpen as a setup pitcher, and has accepted that role.
"Starting isn't anywhere in my thought process," Wood said. "I may never start another game again. That's the way I look at it now. I'm healthy, and I feel like I have a good year ahead of me. I'm going to go from there. Sometime down the road. Maybe."
Is he OK with that?
"Yeah," Wood said. "As long as I'm playing baseball, I can't complain."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.