Notes: Prior responds to critics

Notes: Prior responds to critics

CHICAGO -- Mark Prior hears the gossip and he reads between the lines. He knows what some people think of his injury problems and what some say about his toughness, or lack therof.

"I've heard whispers, but I haven't heard exactly what has been said," Prior said. "But it's just, how do I say this in a nice way? It's just stupid. There's no other way to put it."

Prior was back at Wrigley Field on Tuesday after throwing two innings in his first rehab start at Class A Peoria on Monday. He threw 44 pitches and gave up three runs, two earned, and four hits. The 25-year-old right-hander, expected to be the Cubs' ace, has been on the DL since Spring Training with a strained shoulder.

Because he's started on the disabled list for three straight seasons and because this particular injury (shoulder strain on March 27) wasn't diagnosed quickly, Prior's once flawless image in Chicago has been tarnished, if only through the grapevine.

"I want to pitch," he said. "If I can throw the ball over the plate, I want to pitch. I don't care if it's 60 [mph] or 95. I want to pitch. I can get people out, no matter how I do it. I'm not a thrower. I know how to play the game. I know how to pitch the game. People say, 'He doesn't have the desire to come back.' I think it's stupid."

Prior's velocity on his fastball reached 90 mph just once as he worked in the 95-degree heat. He typically throws in the mid-to-high 90s with ease, which means he definitely needs a couple more starts in the Minors.

"The only thing I can say, to me, what I'm throwing is what I'm throwing right now," he said. "I've always been a guy who takes time to kind of build up my velocity. I'm usually throwing harder later in the year. I was happy with the way the ball was coming out of my hand."

Cubs manager Dusty Baker said there is no official word, as far as he knows, about how many rehab starts Prior would need. He does know he'll need to throw more than two innings.

"Who knows?" Baker said. "He could turn the corner and throw five, six innings next time and five, six the next time after that, too. Right now, we're just going start to start."

"I did what I wanted to accomplish," Prior said. "I wanted to go down there and throw strikes, get ahead of hitters, and work on my location more than anything. That was my goal going into the whole outing, work on strikes, get back to some of the basic things I wanted to work on in Spring Training that I kind of got away from, especially late in the last year."

The next step in his program is working on his breaking stuff, mainly his slider and curveball, which he threw sparingly in Peoria.

"I'll try and incorporate some things, pitching backwards, throwing breaking balls where I'm accustomed, 0-2, 1-2 counts," Prior said. "Yesterday, I don't think I threw a curveball until the last pitch of the first inning."

Prior said he felt the normal soreness after the start and should be ready to pitch again in a normal routine. One thing is for sure, judging by his nine-minute press conference, he's itching to get back to the Cubs.

"Put it this way, it's not exactly fun to be sitting out there in Mesa in April and May, watching your team play and you're out of the game," he said. "I mean, this is my home. I do live here. I reside here. I want to play. I don't like being away from my team."

Not for sale: Mark Cuban was the back-page cover boy in Tuesday's Chicago Sun-Times. The Dallas Mavericks owner has expressed his interest in possibly buying the Cubs if the Tribune Company was willing to sell, as has been rumored.

According to an article on the Chicago Tribune's Web site Tuesday, that rumor should be squashed. The Tribune Co., which owns the paper, WGN, the team and countless other media assets, has been saddled with declining stock prices. It announced a plan to buy back a quarter of its publicly traded shares, costing an estimated $2 billion, and declared it would sell off an "undisclosed grab bag of 'noncore assets,' which officials explicitly said won't include the Chicago Cubs baseball team, to raise an estimated 'at least' $500 million."

For now, Cuban will have to stick to fantasy baseball and watch his Mavericks compete for the NBA Finals.

Walk like a man: Todd Walker was back in the lineup Tuesday after suffering a bruised clavicle the day before when he took a grounder off his body in the fourth. He finished the game and went to the hospital afterward for X-rays.

"Everything checked out," Baker said. "He's really sore, but Walk wanted to play, and we need him to play."

Lineup shakeup, ad nauseam: Matt Murton hit third for the first time this season, Aramis Ramirez returned to the cleanup spot and Walker, hitting .378 in his last nine game, went from fourth Monday to fifth Tuesday. The reason for yet another lineup change: Reds left-hander Brandon Claussen and the team's stable of southpaw relievers.

Baker started left-handed hitters Juan Pierre and Tony Womack in the first two spots of the order, Walker three more down and Jacque Jones in seventh.

"We've got to spread those guys out because they've got three lefties in the bullpen," Baker said. "I don't want to make them bring one lefty in. I want them to bring in a couple lefties during the course of the game and use them up, if possible. Claussen is pretty good against lefties, too."

Murton, hitting .417 (10-for-24) with three homers in six games against the Reds going into Tuesday's game, had four hits in six at-bats against Claussen and Ramirez was 4-for-9 with a homer. The Cubs third baseman has yet to really heat up, and was hitting just .238 going into the game. He has been hitting fifth or even sixth.

"He's the best person for the job, as far as a right-handed hitter in the middle of the order," Baker said. "If they had a right-hander pitching, I'd have Walk there."

News and notes: Closer Ryan Dempster passed out cigars to players and reporters to celebrate the birth of his first child, son Brady. ... Baker, a former hitting instructor with the San Francisco Giants, was swinging a bat with Ramirez outside of the cage during batting practice. ... The Cubs have hit .324 in their last five games, before Tuesday, after hitting just .220 in their previous 10. ... Womack played and hit second again Tuesday. ... Henry Blanco started at catcher, but only to give Michael Barrett a rest, Baker said. Barrett still hasn't received word about his appeal of his 10-game suspension for slugging A.J. Pierzynski.

Minor matters: Michael Restovich homered in his third straight game, hitting his fourth overall in that span, when he hit homer No. 8 in Triple-A Iowa's 5-4 loss to Nashville on Monday. Andy Shipman blew his second save and took the loss, giving up three runs in 1 1/3 innings. ... Chris Walker and Gary Cates Jr. each had three hits in Double-A West Tenn's 3-2 win over Huntsville. ... Prior took the loss in Class A Peoria's 8-2 defeat against Kane County.

Coming up: Carlos Zambrano (3-2, 3.45 ERA) looks to win his fourth straight decision when the Cubs complete their series with the Reds on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. ET. He got a no-decision in his last start May 26 against Atlanta, giving up two runs and two hits. He struck out eight and is second in the NL with 79 strikeouts.

Jon Greenberg is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.