Prior improves, but Cubs shut out

Prior improves, but Cubs shut out

MINNEAPOLIS -- Mark Prior was better, but it wasn't good enough.

Boof Bonser combined with three pitchers on a seven-hit shutout Saturday night as the Minnesota Twins posted a 3-0 victory over Prior and the struggling Chicago Cubs, who may be playing with a 22-man roster in the series finale.

Prior (0-2), slowed this spring by a sprained muscle in his right shoulder, was making his second start, and gave up three runs on eight hits and one walk over 5 2/3 innings. He struck out four.

"He's deceptive," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Prior. "I'm sure he probably doesn't have all of his arm strength yet and he's probably not where he wants to be, but I'm telling you he's pretty close. The ball comes out of his hand and shoots up and he gets you chasing pitches. We can see how good the guy is, and he threw a good ballgame against us."

This was an improvement over Prior's first start on June 18 against Detroit, when he needed 39 pitches to get through the first inning. On Saturday, Prior retired the side in the first three innings, totaling 30 pitches in that stretch.

"He pitched very good," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "He gave up a couple 0-2 hits, but he threw well, his velocity was up, 93, 94 [mph], which we haven't seen for awhile. His location was pretty sharp. I'm very pleased and satisfied with what he did tonight and how he threw the ball."

Prior was pleased, too.

"I felt more comfortable out there," Prior said. "I guess that's a positive thing. I just didn't put guys away when I had them in situations to do it. Overall, it was better from a personal standpoint, but I put us in a tough situation there. The other guy was throwing a good game."

With one out in the Twins' fifth, Torii Hunter walked, Jason Kubel singled and Hunter scored on Terry Tiffee's single. Jason Bartlett followed with an RBI double.

Justin Morneau and Hunter each singled with two outs in the sixth. Baker came out to talk to Prior before Kubel's at-bat, but the right-hander gave up a single to Kubel, which drove in another run. Prior was then pulled after 91 pitches.

"I asked him how he felt and could he get this guy," Baker said of the brief conversation. "He made a great pitch. I wanted to see that fire in his eyes, which I saw."

In the showdown between Joe Mauer and Prior, the Nos. 1 and 2 picks in the 2001 draft, respectively, the Twins catcher was 1-for-2 with a single in the fourth.

"He's a good hitter," Prior said. "He doesn't try to do too much with it. Wherever the ball is, he'll go with the pitch. A lot of the balls he hit were away from him and he went with it. That's what good hitters do, and it's surprising for a guy as young as he is to have that kind of plate discipline and not try to jerk it and yank it out of here over the right-field fence. That's good for him and probably good for the team."

Bonser (2-1) picked up the win, giving up six hits over 6 1/3 scoreless innings. Phil Nevin had three of those hits for the Cubs, now 69-72 in Interleague Play. Even worse, the Cubs have lost 45 games, and it's not even the All-Star break.

"We obviously haven't played well," Prior said. "Not to take anything away from the Twins -- they've been playing really well lately -- but it's tough. We've got to keep fighting. We're not going to give up. Just keep fighting -- that's all you can do.

"Sometimes the results aren't going to be there but nobody is going to stop playing," Prior continued. "You have to show up every day and keep playing and give 110 percent, and hopefully things start going the direction you want them to go."

Baker isn't giving up.

"You've still got games to play and you've got to play them," he said. "You can't get crushed right now. People pay their money to see us play. We've got a job to do and that's what we've got to do."

It's tough to get the job done when players make mistakes.

"We messed up the bunt and ended up with a double play [in the third], and Freddie [Bynum] wasn't supposed to be running and he got thrown out at third with our big guys up there," Baker said. "Those were our real threats. We kind of shot ourselves."

Bynum got a little over-eager in the fourth. He singled to lead off, then stole second. Then, with Aramis Ramirez still at the plate, Bynum tried to steal third with none out. He was thrown out.

However, the loss may have been costly as both Bynum and second baseman Tony Womack had to leave the game. Bynum's right arm became swollen. He had a blood clot removed from his right shoulder in September 2004, and was taken to a local hospital to be examined. Womack had to be pulled in the third inning with back spasms.

The Cubs already are playing a man short as Michael Barrett serves a 10-game suspension.

"You wonder what else can happen," Baker said.

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