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Tom Verducci's View
Tom Verducci
May 31, 2004
ACE IN THE HOLE
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May 31, 2004

Tom Verducci's View

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ACE IN THE HOLE

Everyone in the Cubs' organization breathed a little easier last Thursday after ace Mark Prior (left) made a long awaited return to the mound and pitched three hitless innings in a rehab start for Class A Lansing (Mich.). Assuming that he has no setbacks, the 23-year-old righthander, who went 18-6 and last season has been on the disabled list since March 26 with injuries to his right Achilles' tendon and right elbow, should return to the majors on June 4.

"The discomfort was actually behind the elbow," said Prior's agent, John Boggs. "It was never anything associated with pitching injuries, such as the ligaments and tendons. He's on the right track."

The Cubs weathered the first quarter of the season magnificently without their ace, not to mention recent injuries to righthander Kerry Wood (right triceps strain), rightfielder Sammy Sosa (sprained ligament in his lower back) and shortstop Alex Gonzalez (fractured bone in his right wrist). At week's end Chicago was on pace to win 94 games with a Prior-less staff that had the third-lowest ERA (3.62) in the majors, behind only the Red Sox and the Phillies. Now Prior will be fresher in the second half (and possibly the postseason) than he otherwise would have been if he hadn't begun the season on the disabled list.

MEET HIM IN ST. LOUIS

Brad Thompson (right) never looked like a can't-miss prospect. The 22-year-old righthander, who is with the Double A Tennessee Smokies in the Cardinals' organization, was undrafted out of high school, went to Dixie State, a junior college in St. George, Utah, was drafted in the 16th round by St. Louis in 2002, does not throw especially hard (89 to 91 mph) and does not intimidate people with his mound presence. "He looks like Opie Taylor," said Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty. "He's a baby-faced kid."

Thompson, though, has one very nasty pitch—a darting, sinking fastball. With a 7-0 record and a 0.18 ERA through Sunday, Thompson, who had a streak of 57? consecutive scoreless innings snapped on May 19, has become one of St. Louis's top prospects. The Cardinals intend to promote him to Triple A very soon.

TAKING IT TO THE BANK
Before the season Phillies manager Larry Bowa (left) said, "We're pretty much going to live and the with home runs," Thanks in part to new Citizens Bank Park, the club is alive and well. Philadelphia had 38 homers in its first 20 games at home with 20 in 22 games on the road. The ball jumps particularly well in the new stadium's short power alleys (369 in both left center and right center), which have drawn comparisons to the hitter-friendly alleys at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

THREE STRIKES

1. Though the Yankees had been outscored by the Tigers one quarter of the way through the season, New York's lineup commands respect. With 194 walks through Sunday, the Yanks were on pace to threaten the 72-year-old franchise record for bases art balls (766). And with a pitching staff that had issued the fewest walks in the AL (113), New York was on track to draw 305 more bases on halls than it would yield to opponents (731-428).

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