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Questions about Mark Prior's health surfaced again Thursday after another shaky outing in an 8-6 loss to Milwaukee, but the answers were as elusive as Prior himself.
Whether Prior will make his next start is up in the air, and the possibility of Prior being shut down for the rest of the season if he goes on the disabled list for a third time is something the Cubs may consider.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said he would wait to see how Prior recovers from Thursday's three-inning start before making a decision on his next outing. If there's something wrong with Prior's shoulder, could he be shut down?
Prior responded with a resounding "no," while Rothschild called it "speculation."
"I have no idea," Rothschild said. "I couldn't even begin to tell you that."
The Cubs have said repeatedly there's nothing wrong with Prior's arm.
"You take a man at his word when he says he's feeling great," manager Dusty Baker said. "If that's what you think, that's what you say. We just have to see."
Prior fell to 1-6 with a 7.21 earned-run average after Thursday's loss. He missed the first 2½ months of the season with a shoulder strain and has struggled with his control since returning, walking 28 batters in 432/3 innings.
"Whether there's still weakness [in the shoulder] and that's the reason he's under pitches at times
but there have been a lot of times when everything has been basically the same," Rothschild said. "The velocity has been good and he has been [throwing] downhill. It's hard to tell right now [if he's hurt]."
Prior allowed six runs on four hits with four walks, a wild pitch and a hit batter. Rookie Juan Mateo replaced Prior, leaving an opening in the rotation. Angel Guzman, who threw seven shutout innings Saturday for Triple-A Iowa against Tacoma, likely will be called up to take Mateo's scheduled start Saturday in Colorado.
Prior has a theory about his lack of consistency but declined to discuss it.
"I have some ideas, but I'll keep those private," he said. "I'm just not finding the plate and not being aggressive."
Prior added "it's not a matter of confidence," and that he feels "fine on the mound."
After being staked to a 1-0 lead in the first, Prior and his defense fell apart in the Brewers' four-run inning. Prior walked leadoff man Brady Clark before Jeff Cirillo dumped a single in front of Angel Pagan, whose poor throw failed to get a force at second.
Prior then walked Prince Fielder to load the bases and put Kevin Mench on his back, nearly beaning him on an 0-1 pitch. On the next pitch, Mench smoked a drive to left that Pagan misplayed at the wall, letting it hit the auxiliary scoreboard for a two-run single. Pagan compounded the problem with an errant throw that allowed both runners to advance.
The Brewers added two more runs on sacrifice flies by Gabe Gross and David Bell, sandwiched around a hit batter. Jacque Jones made poor throws on both fly balls, air-mailing one over catcher Henry Blanco's head and sending the other one up the third-base line.
"We gave them a lot of baserunners via walks, a couple hit batsmen, a couple of defensive miscues, missed the cutoff man a couple of times," Baker said. "In that four-run first, we could've come out with nothing."
Prior was yanked after giving up two more runs in the third on RBI singles by Bell and Mike Rivera, departing after only 58 pitches.
Trailing 8-1 after four innings, the Cubs bounced back on the strength of two-run homers by Aramis Ramirez and Blanco, pulling to within 8-6 on Blanco's shot in the eighth. The Cubs threatened in the ninth on a leadoff walk to Cesar Izturis and a dropped fly by Clark, putting the tying runs on with no outs.
But John Mabry lined to left and Jones grounded into a double play to end it.
Asked about his health afterward, Prior sidestepped the subject. Will he make his next scheduled start Tuesday in Houston?
"We'll see what happens," Prior said. "Obviously, I haven't pitched well. I didn't pitch well today. We'll see where we're at."