Notes: Prior nears Cactus game action

Notes: Prior nears Cactus game action

MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs are leaning toward having Mark Prior throw one more simulated game before inserting him into a Cactus League game this spring.

Prior threw 35 pitches off a mound Sunday, and he is healthy. He will throw a side session on Tuesday and go from there. The Cubs want to control the conditions under which he's pitching.

"It was good. Obviously different," Prior said Monday about his session off the mound. "I was a little uncomfortable at first, but I thought I threw strong."

Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Prior has time to make at least three Cactus League starts before the regular season begins. The right-hander is scheduled to start the second game of the regular season April 5, against Cincinnati.

"I didn't think there was a question that I wouldn't be in a Cactus League game this year," Prior said. "I've always said I've been planning on pitching that first week of the season, so obviously, I would get into some games before the season started.

"We're taking it day by day right now," he said.

The same can be said for Kerry Wood, who threw about 12 pitches off a mound on Sunday.

"Right now, we're very satisfied with where he is," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said of Wood. "If something was to happen with his knee, this was prime time to have it happen."

Good memories: Jerry Hairston Jr., wrote "34" on his cap in memory of Kirby Puckett, who died last week after suffering a stroke. Hairston said his father, Jerry Hairston Sr., gave Puckett the No. 34 pendant that the Twins outfielder wore.

"My dad loved him," Jerry Jr., said Monday. "Growing up in Chicago, I watched him. I always liked him as a player. He hacked at everything. He went up there swinging. He was a good guy."

Cubs team president Andy MacPhail, outfielder Jacque Jones and scout Randy Bush attended Sunday night's memorial service at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

First in line: Juan Pierre has a reputation for being a hard worker, and he's proving that to Cubs hitting coach Gene Clines. Pierre shows up at HoHoKam Park between 6-6:15 every morning.

"I'm thrilled," Clines said. "We have a standing date. We get together 10 minutes to 7 [a.m.] every morning. He's never missed a date. He loves this game -- he's a special guy."

On Monday, Pierre hit a triple and scored a run. He's batting .273 this spring.

Honor student: Casey Kopitzke was behind the plate on Sunday to catch Greg Maddux. It was a thrill for the young catcher, who has spent seven seasons in the Minor Leagues.

"It was pretty awesome," Kopitzke said. "He's been here two years, and I hadn't caught him in the bullpen or anything. It was a treat. It was everything I thought it would be."

Maddux has downplayed working with the young catchers, saying he's not hard to catch.

"He is who he is," Kopitzke said. "That's what makes it special. He can do things other people can't."

Kopitzke didn't call Maddux's pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers.

"I'm just a suggestion box," the 28-year-old catcher said. "That's it. He throws what he wants to throw. He makes it so easy, hitting the glove. It was fun."

Brain cramp: Glendon Rusch posted the longest outing by a Cubs starter this spring on Monday, giving up three runs on six hits over four innings against Colorado.

"I felt great," Rusch said. "I threw all my pitches and mixed it up pretty well and felt like I had pretty good location the whole day. Other than not covering first and giving up five outs that inning, I thought it was a pretty good outing."

Rusch's brain cramp came in the fourth inning.

"When I saw the ball hit, I thought it was towards second base and I stopped, and had no chance, being as slow as I am," Rusch said.

"His velocity appears to be up, his location was good," Baker said. "I'm sure he's not happy about not covering first base. He's been working on it, and we've been making him very conscious of it, but the way he falls off, I don't know, it just looks like he has a lapse or something. Other than that, he threw the ball good."

Projected to be in the rotation at the start of the season, Rusch is working on building up his stamina and getting his pitch count up. He's not looking at the statistics.

"Generally, I'm good for about a 10.00 ERA down here as long as I've been in Arizona for spring," he said. "I just want to feel comfortable out there and have good command."

On the run: One of the players who could be a factor in the Cubs running game is Angel Pagan. The outfielder has spent the last six years in the New York Mets Minor League system, and last year, hit .271 at Triple-A Norfolk with 27 stolen bases, 20 doubles and 10 triples. He's often been compared to another young outfielder from Puerto Rico, Carlos Beltran.

"That's what people say," Pagan said. "I'm glad they compare me with Carlos because he's a great player. I think I have the same talent he has. Hopefully, we can see that in the future."

Pagan, 24, spent most of this winter rehabbing from a sore shoulder. He's still not 100 percent.

"It's not like it used to be -- it used to be a really bad pain," he said. "With the exercises the trainers gave me, it's gotten so much better. We just have to keep doing it and see what happens."

How did he hurt it?

"By the end of the season, I was a little tired," Pagan said. "I was trying to do too much so I changed my mechanics. By doing that, you put too much pressure on your shoulders. I couldn't throw. They told me I had two internal impingements and there was a lot of inflammation, and I had to stop playing and take the winter off and just rehab."

A non-roster invitee, Pagan is hoping to make the Cubs roster as an extra outfielder. He's got the speed that Baker covets. Veteran Marquis Grissom is providing some insight into moves, leads and how best to take advantage of his speed.

Pagan has yet to be called up to the big leagues. Did he get frustrated?

"I've been having two good years, my last two, and I thought I would get called up, and I didn't," he said. "I don't want to go back down. That's a goal for me right now."

Player to be named: The Cubs acquired left-handed pitcher Clint Brannon from the Texas Rangers to complete a November trade for right-handed pitcher Jon Leicester. Brannon, 23, was 9-7 with a 4.45 ERA in 29 games for Class A Bakersfield in 2005. He split time between the rotation and the bullpen, and was 5-4 as a starter and 4-3 as a reliever. He was originally drafted by the Rangers in the 34th round of the 2004 draft.

Extra bases: Baker was happy to see Hairston rebound one week after getting hit in the head. "The main thing is you worry about a guy being apprehensive or if he's gun-shy and pulling off the ball," Baker said. "He showed no effects of being gun-shy at all." Hairston nursed a sore ankle last year. "I hope we end up seeing the Jerry that we traded for," Baker said. ... Felix Pie hit his third triple this spring on Monday. "We're very impressed [with Pie]," Baker said. "That's not the issue. The issue is for him to play and prosper and just get better at some of the fundamentals in the game." ... Perez has been nursing a tender right shoulder, which is why he didn't want to play in the World Baseball Classic. ... Brandon Sing was to see a specialist about his eyes. Allergies have created a problem with his contacts. When he's wearing glasses, Sing said he can't see the ball as well, so he was limited to hitting off a batting tee. ... Pitcher Dave Aardsma was sent home because he was sick. Pitcher Roberto Novoa, who had been sidelined with pneumonia, worked out a little on Monday but was then sent home. Baker said the right-hander was still "semi-quarantined." A couple years ago, a flu bug sidelined several players. "We're hoping whatever it is doesn't walk through the camp like it did a couple years ago," Baker said. ... Baker will try to watch Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who was scheduled to start Monday night for Venezuela against Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. "I thought it was pretty hip to see the excitement for the U.S.-Japan game," he said of Sunday's game in Anaheim, which the U.S. won, 4-3. ... Need to update left-hander John Koronka's statistics. He pitched one-third of an inning on Monday, and now has totaled 5 1/3 innings in five spring games.

On deck: The Cubs play host to the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday at HoHoKam Park. Jerome Williams is scheduled to start for the Cubs, his third this spring. The Cubs have Wednesday off.

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