Notes: Prior faces hitters for first time

Notes: Prior faces hitters for first time

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs pitcher Mark Prior faced hitters for the first time Thursday and threw 30 pitches, which could put him in line for a Cactus League start next week.

Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said he wanted to wait until he sees how Prior feels Friday before scheduling the next throwing session. Prior is following a more structured program this spring in an attempt to avoid minor injuries that have nagged him the last couple years.

"He threw breaking balls toward the end and some changeups," Rothschild said of Thursday's session. "He started mixing some pitches in. We'll keep progressing and see where we get to.

"[His velocity] was OK," Rothschild said. "I wouldn't say it's 100 percent, but I wouldn't expect it to be in batting practice. I think it'll be a natural progression as the tests get a little tougher and he'll step it up."

Rothschild didn't want to set a date for Prior's Cactus League debut.

"It's possible [it could be next week]. I'm not going to say that until I see him," Rothschild said.

Middle men: Ronny Cedeno needs to remember how easy it was to play in Venezuela and carry that over into the big leagues.

"I told him it looked like he was pressing a little bit," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said of the shortstop. "I told him to relax. I told him to play the same game he played in Venezuela and the way he played as a kid. The game's the same -- you have to eliminate the amount of people, the pressure, the TV, the radio, and try to simplify things, and say, 'Hey, man, it's the same game of baseball.'"

Baker wants to see Cedeno play good defense, and expects the hitting to carry over.

As for second base, Baker isn't rushing his decision. His main concern is to keep Todd Walker healthy after the second baseman battled a bruised right knee at the end of last season.

"Everybody knows Todd can hit," Baker said. "I have to keep an eye on him. You don't want him to have anything go wrong with that leg.

"I know [who starts at second] is a big thing, but we have time," Baker said. "There's going to be a decision made sooner or later. I don't want to make it now because I don't have to."

Jerry Hairston Jr., who has yet to play since he was hit in the head by a pitch on Sunday, is expected to play on Friday.

"He says he feels good," Baker said. "When a guy gets hit the way he got hit, we have to be overly cautious."

Learning the game: Catcher Dennis Anderson isn't a kid. He's 28. He's been playing professional baseball for eight years, although it's all been in the Minors.

"I'm actually the last person drafted in '99 by the Marlins who is still playing who's not in the big leagues," Anderson said.

He was behind the plate Thursday with Jerome Williams, and also started when Greg Maddux made his Cactus League start. The pitchers may have big league experience -- and in Maddux's case, 300-plus wins and 3,000-plus strikeouts -- but they're just pitchers to Anderson.

"They're just baseball players like everybody else," Anderson said. "They're just really good. They're the best in the world.

"The tough thing with catching veteran guys is you wonder when you talk to them, if they're going to respond to what you say or if they're going to say, 'You don't know what you're talking about,'" Anderson said. "It's a fine line and different with every pitcher. You have to find out which ones you have to help through things and which ones need a kick in the rear."

Maddux was impressed that Anderson came out in the first inning of his start and tried to settle him down. Rothschild and bullpen coach Juan Lopez have encouraged the catchers to be involved.

"They tell us to go take care of things," Anderson said. "I've always tried to take care of the pitchers. I'm not going to not talk to somebody just because he's older than I am. I'm going to try to help him have the best game he can have."

With Michael Barrett and Henry Blanco playing in the World Baseball Classic, Anderson and the other young catchers are getting plenty of playing time.

"It's a really fortunate situation for me," Anderson said. "Mike and Hank will be Nos. 1-2 come April. We're trying to prove to the big league staff that if something does happen, that we can catch at the big level. That's why you have to gain the pitchers' trust, so when they say, 'Hey, who do you want to catch you?' then they say, 'I want Anderson.' That's the best compliment."

Still, when Anderson caught Maddux, at some point, he had to realize there was a four-time Cy Young winner on the mound.

"My fiance, Leigha, took some pictures of us," Anderson said. "I went home and found my 1989 Topps card of him last night. I used to get really nervous, but for some reason this Spring Training, I haven't. Maybe I'm just comfortable now. It's fun to go out and not have the jitters any more. If I get called up to Chicago and I'm playing in front of 40,000 people, I might have some butterflies in my stomach."

Extra bases: Jacque Jones will go to Minnesota to attend Sunday's memorial service for Kirby Puckett, who died Monday after suffering a stroke. Randy Bush, who was Puckett's teammate on the Twins and now is a special assistant to Cubs GM Jim Hendry, also will attend. ... The Rockies chose not to use the designated hitter on Thursday, so Williams was the first Cubs pitcher to hit in a game. "I was pumped," Williams said. "I told Prior today before I left [Mesa, Ariz.], I'm the first pitcher to actually hit. I had a chance to start off good but I didn't." Williams struck out in his only at-bat. He didn't consider Thursday's outing a setback. "I was throwing the ball pretty good," said Williams, who gave up six runs on eight hits over three innings. "They put the bat on the ball. I have to work on getting the ball to where I want and go from there." ... Ignore a pitcher's ERA here in Arizona. The desert air is not cooperating. "Here in Arizona, it's not so much statistics as the way they're throwing the ball," Rothschild said. ... Reliever Roberto Novoa is sidelined with pneumonia. ... Left-hander Scott Eyre is scheduled to pitch Friday. He has been slowed by a stiff neck, and appeared in two games so far. ... The Cubs' Wives annual Food Drive and Memorabilia Auction will take place Saturday at HoHoKam Park at Gate D. Fans can drop off non-perishable items at Gate D. The Food Drive will benefit Paz de Cristo Community Center in Mesa.

On deck: The Cubs return to HoHoKam Park on Friday to play host to the Angels. Left-hander Rich Hill is scheduled to make his second spring start for the Cubs.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.