If Prior, 25, has thrown his last regular-season pitch, this truly will go down as a lost season for him. While injuries interrupted his 2004 and 2005 seasons, this is the first time Prior's numbers have suffered markedly. He is 1-6 with a 7.21 ERA, and has been able to make only nine starts after spending the first 2 1/2 months of the season on the disabled list due to inflammation in his right shoulder. In just 43 2/3 innings, Prior has allowed 46 hits and 28 walks. He also has surrendered nine home runs, hit eight batters and thrown five wild pitches.
The latest in a long series of health problems cropped up during his Thursday start in Milwaukee when he lasted only three innings and 58 pitches and suffered a drop in velocity. Prior did not complain about any discomfort during the game, but said he was fatigued afterward. He underwent an examination by team orthopedist Dr. Stephen Gryzlo and an arthrogram on Friday in Chicago. Prior will rejoin the team in Houston, and will stay with them during the shutdown and rehab periods, said Cubs head trainer Mark O'Neal.
"With Mark, first and foremost, we're thinking about next year," O'Neal said. "Obviously, he's frustrated. But this is not as extreme as what he had in the spring. The question is, why is he getting these things. There is an underlying instability [in the shoulder]. We are going to do as much as we can to stabilize the shoulder."
But for now, that does not include any possibility of surgery.
"He is not in a lot of pain, but he wasn't able to be Mark Prior," O'Neal said. "The previous five of six outings, he said he felt very good."
So, the beat goes on without Prior once again -- even though his uniforms, equipment and personal items are neatly organized in his locker in the visiting clubhouse at Coors Field. For manager Dusty Baker, that means yet another huge loss in his projected arsenal -- joining Kerry Wood, Derrek Lee, Wade Miller and the traded Greg Maddux.
"This would be much bigger if it were the first time," Baker said. "After a while, you become a little numb. It's disappointing if you're him. He's not very happy about it."
Miller (right shoulder) has made six rehab starts -- the latest taking a step up to Double-A -- and could return soon. Glendon Rusch (tennis elbow) also is expected to return before the season ends. But for time being, 26-year-old rookie Rich Hill is the oldest starter in the Cubs rotation, which temporarily includes three other rookies in Carlos Marmol, Angel Guzman and Juan Mateo -- along with 25-year-old ace Carlos Zambrano. For the time being, the Cubs will stick with seven relievers and five position players on the bench, but constantly dipping into the bullpen several innings per game could necessitate a change.
"You don't know if you're going to get three innings [out of the starting pitchers], or six or seven," Baker said. "That is the difficulty."
Added Hendry: "Even if [Prior] doesn't pitch, we'll get a feel for how he is physically by the end of the year. All the young kids are going to get their turns to see where they're at. We might be getting Wade Miller up in a week or two to have a look for four-five weeks to see how he looks. There are a lot of questions that have to be answered."