Mark Prior is attempting to make a comeback

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Mark Prior is attempting to make a comeback

Yep, you read that right.

Mark Prior is attempting to make a comeback. Again.

The former Cubs draft pick (maybe the most notorious draft pick ever at No. 2 overall in 2001) spent part of last season with the New York Yankees, appearing at three different levels.

But while the oft-injured pitcher's arm held up last year, it's another issue that's been causing trouble for Prior.

He just had surgery recently for a sports hernia, but the problem apparently is not corrected completely. He's working out in California in an attempt to overcome his physical woes and reignite his pitching career.

Prior's body must just hate him. I don't know what else there could be. I can't recall somebody who has had so many injuries, and all of different kinds. He's had shoulder injuries and hip injuries. He's been on the DL for muscle pulls and arm surgeries. And now a sports hernia on top of all that? An issue, might I add, that is still not fixed after a surgery.

Prior is only 30, but he hasn't pitched in the majors since 2006. He made just one appearance for the Rangers in 2010 on one of his many attempted comebacks, pitching one inning in Triple-A. Last year, he tossed just 12 innings for the Yankees. That makes it 13 professional innings pitched since he was in a Cubs uniform in '06. Ouch.

You have to tip your hat to him and hope something finally breaks right for him. Nick Cafardo calls Prior the Stephen Strasburg of his day, which is completely true. Prior was so highly regarded coming out of college that people were in an uproar when the Twins took Joe Mauer with the first overall pick in that 2001 draft.

I hope Strasburg -- who has already had Tommy John surgery -- doesn't have the same bad luck with injuries Prior has. I don't wish that on my worst enemy.

Maddon, Cubs giving Iron Man Anthony Rizzo his own 'mini All-Star break'

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Maddon, Cubs giving Iron Man Anthony Rizzo his own 'mini All-Star break'

Joe Maddon took full advantage of the off-day Thursday.

"I rested my butt off," the Cubs manager said.

Maddon wants Anthony Rizzo to do the same, giving the Iron Man first baseman the day off Friday to kick off a holiday-weekend series against the Phillies at Wrigley Field.

Rizzo has played every game for the Cubs so far, appearing in 399.1 innings at first base out of a possible 407.1.

He led the National League in games played (160) and plate appearances (701) last season and has missed only 26 games since the start of 2013.

"This is something I was looking forward to doing," Maddon said before Friday's game. "When I was with Tampa Bay, I used to do this with Carl [Crawford] all the time to try to take advantage of either the front or back side of a day off to give him two days off.

"I think it's great the way it all played out with the left-hander today (Adam Morgan) for them. And then we play consecutively after this — hopefully, barring any rainouts.

"It was a good time to just give him his little mini All-Star break. And then just have him come back fresh tomorrow."

Friday's game began a stretch of 13 straight for the Cubs, who don't have their next off-day until June 9.

Maddon said he wouldn't hesitate to use Rizzo off the bench if the Cubs needed it Friday.

The All-Star first baseman and perennial MVP candidate is mired in a 3-for-38 slump with his last extra-base hit coming May 14 against the Pirates.

Maddon is hoping this day off will help Rizzo recharge mentally, too.

"I'm anticipating a good result, so that moving forward later in the season, maybe do the same thing again," Maddon said. "'Cause it really does rest those guys up."

Maddon is also giving Jason Heyward his own "mini All-Star Break" Friday after playing two straight games coming out of the scary-looking injury in San Francisco last week.

Heyward left in the first inning of last Friday's game and then missed the next three before playing every inning of the final two games against the Cardinals this week.

Maddon said Heyward is feeling OK, but the Cubs just want to play things safe.

"I wanna be a little cautious," Maddon said. "We had a significant moment in San Francisco. We were more worried that it was going to be even worse and it turned out to be good, so why press our luck right now?

"Let's take advantage of the moment. And a lot of times, the schedule tells you what to do, you just gotta pay attention."

In place of Heyward and Rizzo, Maddon inserted Matt Szczur in right field and Kris Bryant at first base.

Maddon forecasted his backup plan at first base last week in Milwaukee the day after Rizzo was removed in the ninth for a pinch-runner in a game that ultimately went to 13 innings. 

Javy Baez was the option then at first base, but Bryant did shift over there for an out. 

Friday, Maddon opted for Baez at third and Bryant at first.

"KB's been really good at third base. Just a little bit more agility there with Javy," Maddon said. "I still like how large KB is at first base, for lack of a better word. I mean, he's big. He's a great target.

"Moving forward, it's kind of interesting to give him an opportunity to do it. This is something when he's 10 years from now, he's probably going to be able to do very easily. For right now, I like the agility of third base with Javy and I like the target at first base with KB."

Bryant has continued his evolution into Mr. Versatility this season, moving to right field in a tough ballpark when Heyward got hurt last week and regularly seeing time in left field and third base.

When asked how he will handle the transition to first base, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year had the same reaction he does to most things — a simple shrug of the shoulders.

"I think I have good instincts on the field, so I'm gonna go with those and hopefully my glove's broken in," he said through a smile. "That's all I'm worried about, really. I think just playing the infield and throwing the ball across the diamond a lot, I kinda see how it works over there and the bunt defenses and stuff like that. I think it should be alright."

Bryant said he's not worried about making scoops or stretches, relying on his hands and instincts and acknowledging that those are both actions in the moment.

Bryant — who has 6.1 innings under his belt at first base in his professional career — also said he feels comfortable wherever he plays and has talked in the past about being seen as a "baseball player" rather than a "third baseman" or "outfielder."

"I've played some first before," he said. "I played my freshman year in college. I actually worked out mostly at first base my whole fall leading up to the season and then I played third base the whole year there.

"I've had some experience there working around the bag, turning double plays, throwing from a different arm slot over there. I feel comfortable with it.

"I like to be a baseball player and I guess this is another one of those situations where I get to kinda show that."

GM Jed Hoyer on how Cubs were built and where they go from here

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GM Jed Hoyer on how Cubs were built and where they go from here

The St. Louis Cardinals talked about how hard they played until the end against the Cubs, claiming a moral victory, yet another sign of how much this rivalry has changed.

“Do something!” is always the natural reaction when a team struggles, even one with the best record in baseball, even when a three-time Manager of the Year fills out the lineup card, and even coming off a 97-win season and an all-out winter.  

But scoring 21 runs within 23 hours against the Cardinals on Tuesday and Wednesday again showed how the Cubs were built (and how much St. Louis might miss John Lackey). The next time the Cubs fail to hit with runners in scoring position, or get shut out by a Madison Bumgarner, or experience a three-game losing streak, those offensive answers will have to come from within.

“No question,” general manager Jed Hoyer.

Between the final out of the National League Championship Series and getting swept by the New York Mets last October – and their first Cactus League game this spring – the Cubs committed $253 million combined to Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler.

The Cubs have gone 4-for-4 with hitters in their top draft picks – Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ – every year since president Theo Epstein took over baseball operations at Wrigley Field. Plus taking Javier Baez with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft during the final weeks of the Jim Hendry regime.

The Cubs invested $30 million in the Cuban market to sign Jorge Soler and used pitching trade chips (Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija) to acquire half of their infield (Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell) potentially through the 2021 season.   

Rizzo is coming off a 3-for-35 road trip where the Cubs lost series to the Milwaukee Brewers and San Francisco Giants before closing strong in St. Louis. But Rizzo is also so much more mature and competitive than the overmatched hitter Hoyer rushed to the big leagues in 2011 with the San Diego Padres.

“As he goes, sometimes offensively we go,” Hoyer said. “With Anthony, when he’s good, he can carry you for a week to 10 days. He’ll get it going again. He knows he’s good now. He knows he can do it. When he goes to bed at night, he knows he’s an All-Star first baseman.

“That’s important when a guy’s going through a slump, that they have that confidence in themselves. (Now) it’s just a matter of that one swing that’ll click.”

Imagine what manager Joe Maddon described as “the butterfly effect” on the lineup once Heyward (.596 OPS) starts hitting the ball with authority to augment all the other subtle aspects of his game.

“He’s just a winning player,” Hoyer said. “Our players know that. He has that presence. Offensively, he’s been a slow starter like three of the last four years. There’s no question he’ll get it going.

“Once he (does), I think everyone will see the kind of player he’s been for most of his career. Everyone appreciates the defense and the baserunning. But the offense is a big part of that, too, and it will come here very shortly.”

If Heyward can’t be measured by batting average and RBIs, then the Cubs also dug into Zobrist’s peripheral numbers and underlying performance and found the super-utility guy had actually gotten better with age.

Zobrist turned 35 on Thursday and is hitting .346 and leading the majors with a .453 on-base percentage in the first season of a four-year contract.

“We love youth, (but) having some veterans is important,” Hoyer said. “With Ben, we felt like his skill set matched us perfectly. But we did really dig into the numbers to make sure that was the case.

“One of the things we look at is his ability to hit fastballs – it’s kind of gotten better and better throughout his career. Guys that can still hit a really good fastball don’t show a lot of signs of aging.”

It will be impossible to match the infusion of youth and energy Schwarber brought to the Cubs last summer, when he hit 16 homers in 69 games plus five more during the playoffs. 

The Cubs are 31-14 with Schwarber getting only five plate appearances during the first week of the season and now recovering from major knee surgery. 

Schwarber comparisons are unrealistic/unfair, but the next wave at Triple-A Iowa includes Almora, a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s hitting .326 and top catching prospect Willson Contreras (.933 OPS).

“We knew we were going to miss Kyle,” Hoyer said. “There’s no question about that. You take a guy like Kyle (away) – that’s like taking Michael Conforto out of the Mets’ lineup.

“He’s that good a left-handed hitter. He kills right-handed pitching. We knew we were going to miss it. I think our guys have done a great job of filling that hole.

“As for Contreras and Almora, I look at those two guys and I think there’s a little development left. We know that they’re doing a great job at Triple-A. If the need arises, those are guys that might get forced into action.

“But right now, we want those guys developing. Obviously, if the major-league team needs that player at that moment, (Kyle) will be the precedent. But right now, I think they’re still developing, still learning.”

A 10-game homestand begins Friday afternoon against the rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. As the Cardinals know by now, the Cubs are no longer a franchise that keeps score with minor-league updates or prospect rankings or moral victories.

Jennie Finch will become first female to manage professional men's baseball team

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Jennie Finch will become first female to manage professional men's baseball team

Retired softball legend — and former Chicago Bandits star player — Jennie Finch is set to make history by becoming the first female to manage a professional men's baseball team, albeit for one game. 

Finch will take the helm of the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League as a guest manager this Sunday, May 29, as they face off agaisnt the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs at The Ballpark at Harbor Yard.

Finch led a standout career as a pitcher, winning a College World Series in 2001 with the Arizona Wildcats before helping team USA to gold and silver medals (in 2004 and 2008). She played for the Chicago Bandits from 2005-2010, and due to her success the team named the street leading to its stadium in Rosemont, Ill., 'Jennie Finch Way.'