Friday, I saw Mark Prior's fourth start in the majors as my beloved Cubbies visited town to play the Mariners for the first time in their history. Prior was matched up against another good young pitcher, Joel Pineiro. Usually, I root for the Mariners, but not when they're playing the Cubs.
Prior started off well, striking out Ichiro on a 95 mph fastball which Ichiro swung through. From there on out he was in control, pitching out of one jam with runners on first and third and no outs. All night he was spotting 93 to 97 mph gas, snappy 80-81 mph curves, and the occasional 84-85 mph changeup. The Mariners were overmatched in many cases; many of the strikeouts were full or check swings. Prior looks calm on the mound and has a smooth delivery. It's easy cheese--as he continues to mature it wouldn't be surprising to see him tossing in the high 90's consistently.
Baylor let Prior go back out for the 7th inning after he had already thrown 110 pitches or so. That made me nervous. He ended up tossing 124 pitches, striking out the side in his last inning. If Baylor had let him stay out there much longer I would've run out on the field and yanked him myself. Baylor let Clement out there the next night for 116 pitches. Let's hope Baylor, with his job in jeopardy, doesn't abuse his starters until their arms fall off. I won't exactly shed many tears if he's let go this year.
Later Kyle Farnsworth came in and blew Ichiro away on a 98 mph high fastball. Sammy also connected and hit a rocket of a line drive out to the second level of the left field bleachers. The other memorable moment came when Pineiro got Sosa to ground into a double play, pumped his fist, and started walking off the field. Problem? There were only two outs. The home plate ump told a sheepish Pineiro to get back out there, but perhaps his mind didn't follow. The next batter, Crime Dog McGriff, homered to right.
Prior ended up with 11Ks in 7 innings. Someday I'll look back and tell folks about seeing him pitch his first year in the majors. He has the potential to be a control power pitcher, much like Roger Clemens or Curt Schilling of the past few years. It's a rare combination--Kerry Wood is still trying to gain command of his stuff. If he stays healthy, Prior will be the Cubs ace within two years.