The start of Prior's 2004 season was delayed because of an Achilles injury, and last year, he was bothered by his elbow. Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild and Prior had decided to take this new approach -- made the decision before the right-hander was sidelined from his workout program in late December with a respiratory infection. So far, Prior has only thrown long toss, and did some drills off the mound on Monday. He's getting close to a bullpen session.
"My body feels good and my arm felt good throwing [Monday]," he said. "I'm getting closer. It's a process to get ready for the season. It's not just show up and go to work. I feel good, my body feels good. I don't feel 'sick or weak.' I don't tan well."
Maybe if Prior could get a little color in his face, it would squelch such reports as the one on the "Baseball Prospectus"
Web site that he's behind the other pitchers because he's "sick and weak."
"Everybody wants to find something wrong," Prior said of the latest rumor. "That's just life. You deal with it. I'm not going to sit here and defend or validate anything. There have been a lot of rumors in my career. There's really not much I can say about it. That's people's opinions.
"It doesn't bother me. It really doesn't. I've been through this a few times. Rumors are rumors, and sources are sources, and whatever they want to say, go ahead and write it."
"He's progressing like we've said," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said of Prior. "You can't believe reports unless it comes from us. If it doesn't come from us, it doesn't count."
Prior said his only concern is to get ready for the season.
"I can't focus on negative things that are revolving around myself or other players or the ballclub," he said. "Whatever comes, you deal with it head on. I can't worry about the pitch I just threw, I have to worry about the pitch I'm getting ready to throw. You learn from it."
Tuesday was the first full-squad workout, and among the items in Baker's state of the team address was to introduce staff members, particularly the person who delivers the meal money. He also had a serious message.
"I told them what we're looking for," Baker said. "Hopefully, start the season injury-free, you build it up through the season, you'd like to get off to a good start, and we're looking for a championship -- the same thing we're looking for every year."
What are the biggest challenges the Cubs face in 2006? One is being without their Nos. 1-2 catchers, Michael Barrett and Henry Blanco, who will be playing in the World Baseball Classic. The two are doing everything they can to learn new pitchers
such as Scott Eyre and Bob Howry.
"The second [challenge] is to try to break healthy," Baker said. "It's probably the oldest cliche around but you want that health. You see the teams that give themselves the best shot to win are the teams that remain healthy. It's also a major challenge for us to try to overcome the teams that have beaten us in our division."
For example, the Cubs were 6-9 against Cincinnati and 7-9 against Milwaukee in 2005.
Glovework: Michael Restovich bought a new first baseman's glove on Monday and tested it out on Tuesday. A non-roster invitee who has played for Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Colorado, Restovich could get some playing time at first while Derrek Lee is participating in the World Baseball Classic. However, Restovich hasn't started at first since high school.
"For me, that's the role I have right now," he said about the need to be more versatile. "The more I can do, the better. I hope it will help my chances at any point in my career."
Did he buy a D-Lee model glove?
"It wouldn't hurt," Restovich said of Lee, a two-time Gold Glove winner. "He's one of the better ones in the game.
"Hopefully, I'll learn something from him and I'll keep my ears open and my eyes open and try to pick up as much as I can," he said.
The two were paired together during infield drills on Tuesday.
Life in the fast lane: One year ago in Spring Training, Matt Murton didn't do too many media interviews. He was just the red-headed Minor League outfielder whom the Cubs acquired in the Nomar Garciaparra deal.
This spring is different. Murton is coming off a season in which he batted .321 and is projected as the Cubs starting left fielder. He's getting lots of attention.
"It's definitely something new," Murton said after another round of TV cameras in his face, "but at the same time, you kind of look over it. The thing is, as a ballplayer you have to maintain your focus and what you're here to do and that's playing on the field. The biggest adjustment is almost the off-field stuff. You don't read into too much stuff, never get too high, don't get too low, take it for what it is, appreciate it and move on, and go out there and play the game."
Still, it has to be pretty heady stuff to come into big league camp after his abbreviated rookie season and be touted as a starter.
"I appreciate it because I realize the things individuals go through to get to that opportunity," Murton said. "I feel so blessed. I'm thankful for that opportunity, but really, in some ways, you have to put it all behind you and you have to go out there and compete and play the game and find a way to get things done for the team."
Extra bases: Of the three second basemen in camp -- Todd Walker, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Neifi Perez -- Baker said all of them could handle the No. 2 spot in the order. "That's the most unselfish, smartest spot in the lineup," Baker said. "You have to be able to handle the bat. It's also a position that won't run as much because then they'll walk D-Lee. It's a position for a more established, accomplished veteran player." ... Among the pitchers who threw bullpen sessions on Tuesday were Angel Guzman, Bobby Brownlie, Sean Marshall and Jae Kuk Ryu. ... Triple-A hitting coach Von Joshua is still moving a little gingerly after undergoing back surgery in December. ... ... Cubs' 2006 single-game tickets go on sale Friday.