Iowa won the game, 2-1. Prior pitched 6 2/3 innings, striking out 10 and allowing one walk and an unearned run. He threw 90 pitches, 63 of them for strikes.
Q: Mark, your outing looked pretty good to us. How would you assess it?
A: It went pretty well. I threw the ball well in the strike zone. For the most part, I threw the ball where I wanted to and did the things that I wanted to do. I didn’t miss and when I did, I missed in the general area that I wanted to miss. I felt like I went after guys and tried to pick up some weaknesses as quick as I could and exploit them.
Q: With the bases loaded in a one-run game, you normally wouldn’t hit in that situation.
A: No, and I felt bad. It was definitely a situation where they should have pinch-hit. But they had some orders coming down from Chicago and fortunately, they’re still trying to win ball games. I’m glad they let me hit. It was a fun experience, but obviously I wish they could have got some more runs to help them win.
Q: Does this show you’re ready to go to the majors?
A: Well, the stuff I had today, I feel like I could definitely compete. I think the stuff I’ve had the last two outings is something I can take to a big league game and work with. I think more than anything, it’s just an endurance question. I’ll know more about that in 24 to 48 hours just to see how my body responds. But I think definitely with the command and movement that I had, and setting guys up and getting the counts that were definitely favorable for myself, I can take that kind of arsenal and compete. I don’t think I’ll be the guy I’d like to be right away, but I think I can definitely do the things that I’d like to do.
Q: Did you have the understanding that this would be your last Triple-A start?
A: You know, I honestly don’t know. The goal going in today was to try to step it up a little intensity-wise and more importantly, to come out healthy and feeling good about the way I threw the ball. I think those two things I accomplished. Again, I won’t know where I’m at for another day or two and then we’ll see how I respond.
Q: The radar gun had you at 92 a couple of times. Is that how you felt?
A: Yeah, I felt good. My ball had some good movement. I had some sink on some pitches. I got it to run in on some guys. That’s kind of where I’ve been at and I’m happy with that right now. Over time, I’ll start building up some stamina and start moving up here or there. I definitely like pitching around 91 or 92 because I feel I have some better command on my pitches. It’s always nice to go back up to 93 or 95, but I think I pitch better between 91 and 92.
Q: This was a road game for the I-Cubs. You probably noticed a lot of Cub fans in the crowd. What was that like?
A: It was great, you know? It was a beautiful night to pitch. I think it was my second time pitching in New Orleans. The first time, we kind of got rained out a little bit. The fans are great. I think they came out and were very supportive. I really appreciate it and had a lot of fun tonight. It was a well-pitched game. Billy Traber threw a great game and did some good things out there. It was fun to watch him. It was just a fun game to be a part of.
Q: Were you working on any specific pitch?
A: No, my breaking ball my last start in Jackson (Tenn.) wasn’t as good as it was a few starts ago in Peoria. But I felt like I threw the ball well for the most part. My main goal was to come in, attack the hitters, and get on top of them and get ahead early in the count. That puts them in a more defensive situation where I can be more offensive. There was only about two batters – well, the same batter twice, Alberto Castillo – where I found myself in a hole.
Q: Whose call is it for you to go back up to the big league club if you tell them in one or two days that your arm feels good?
A: I’m not sure. I think obviously we’ll have some discussions. I won’t get back up there until probably before the game tomorrow. So we’re probably looking at – what’s today, Tuesday? [laughter] I’ve been to seven different cities in the past 10 days – Thursday. I’m sure they want to see how I respond during my side sessions. Obviously, if I feel good, I’ll tell them that, but they’ll make the call on what they see and what they’ve heard from their reports. It’s their call, but I definitely have some significant input.
Q: You had five strikeouts against the first six batters. Was there anything in particular that was working for you early on, or were they just not used to seeing you?
A: No, the first guy I struck out on an inside fastball. I got two guys on breaking balls. It was more location and mixing speeds I think. I didn’t know much about these guys and neither did the coaches. They said the first two guys were kind of slap guys just trying to get on. I knew [Ryan] Church a little bit from facing him with Washington and Montreal. [Geovany] Soto did an absolute awesome job calling the game. He really got on my butt and made sure I stayed focused on what I needed to do. He really read the hitters well and has come a long way since I threw to him last year. I have to give a lot of credit to how he called the game and how he set guys up. He did a wonderful job.
Q: Would you say that this game was the first time you got to compete a little with the score so close?
A: Yeah, I got to compete in Jackson a little last week. They jumped on me a little early in the game and I was able to come back and shut them down. We were fortunate to win the game. It was good to get in and do some things that I’ll have to do next week, or the following week, or whenever it is. I’m going to have to hit and I’ll have to do some things offensively and defensively to try and manage the game a little bit. Those are things that you need to experience just to get the feel back. You know what you want to do, but you still have to execute pitches. It was nice to get a feel for those types of things.
Q: You had the one hard hit ball to the wall. Was that pitch where you wanted it to be?
A: No, I wanted to go low and away and I just left it more middle up or up and away. It fit right into his swing. It definitely wasn’t the location I was looking for.
Q: What did you say to the umpire when you were leaving the game?
A: On the way out? I just said, “Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.” [laughter]
Q: Would you say that to every umpire when you get 10 strikeouts in a game?
A: Not every umpire, no.
Q: When you made your first two starts at Peoria, did you have to hold anything back?
A: You know, the first two starts, I was more working on getting back into the rhythm of the game. Throwing in Mesa is more of an instructional setting. It’s more stop and go than anything. I was kind of working on location and pitches. Once I moved up to Double-A where I know hitters can hit and are often jumping straight to the big leagues, I tried to ratchet up a little. There are times you hold back, but there are times you hold back in the big leagues because you don’t have to go 100 percent.
Q: Rehabs are always unpredictable. Has there been anything about this process that’s been surprising or maybe a tougher climb than you’d hoped?
A: Yeah, I mean I definitely didn’t wish it took this long. This is really the first time I’d ever rehabbed from a throwing injury. As much as I’ve unfortunately been on the DL, a lot of it hasn’t been related to me actually pitching. This is actually the first time I’d had to shut down and do some strengthening and work on some things. I had some setbacks unfortunately. I got sick out in Arizona, which set me back 10 days or so. At times when I started going, it felt good and then there was a week or so before I got sick where I was throwing and feeling some dead arm. It was definitely a learning experience for me. The things I learned from the shoulder is that it’s so involved. Once one thing goes, it kind of shuts everything else down. There’s a real firing sequence with everything that you do with your shoulder. But more than anything, it’s unfortunate that I got sick because I think I would have been here two weeks ago versus where I am right now. But that’s all in the past and I can’t do anything about it now.
Q: It sounds as much like it’s a mental process as well.
A: Yeah and a lot of rehab is. You’re conscious of letting yourself go and saying, “I’m OK. I’m OK,” and then getting to that point where you’re rebounding and able to keep building on it. That’s the last 10 to 20 percent of the rehab, but it’s probably the toughest.
Q: Does it mean anything to you to go out and give the people of New Orleans a night of entertainment so to speak?
A: Yeah, absolutely. We are in a sense entertainers. Coming down, I’d been here a few different times before.
Q: As a civilian?
A: Yeah, I came down here playing when I was 15. I visited Tulane on a college trip and came again in ’02. I was wanting to see what all would be different this time. Obviously, things are different. I think baseball has found a way to help people get through things and hopefully even if it’s only one night, they can forget about what’s going on around them and around their city. If I can play the smallest part in that, I’m happy to do that. As I said earlier, these fans were great and supportive. It really meant a lot given the kind of hardship they’ve had to deal with the last 10 or 11 months.
Q: You were obviously here to work, but did you have the time or ability to look around?
A: You’re just driving around here trying to see what’s different and not different. Seeing what I saw on TV and driving by the Superdome and thinking about some of the images that were broadcast, it definitely makes you think twice about what’s important. What we do out there is obviously not as important as what these people are having to go through right now with trying to rebuild themselves.
Q: Someone mentioned the mental aspect of your rehab earlier. What’s been the hardest part in all this?
A: I think the time I was away from my teammates down in Arizona. As fun as it to hang out with some of the younger guys and help them out, you’re away from your ball club. The other thing, being a starting pitcher, things kind of get dragged out. I think it’s trying to stay patient, but it’s just the time away. You want to be back and want to help. You say to yourself, “If I was back, could I help? Could I do this? Would it have made a difference?” Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no.
Q: If you would have been healthy all this time, how much of a difference would it have made in the standings?
A: It’s tough to say, you know? I try not to look in the past and play the “what if?” game. You end up talking yourself in circles. Maybe things would have been same. Maybe they would have been worse. [laughter] Not that you could get worse, but you just never know. I think you can deduct a whole lot of things if I’d been healthy. Maybe D-Lee doesn’t get hurt. Maybe I’m pitching in that game. You can do a whole thing on it.
Q: If the Cubs asked you tonight, “Are you ready to go?” What would you tell them?
A: Wait until tomorrow or the next day. [laughter]
Q: Best case scenario, Mark, what is your schedule?
A: Best case scenario would be that I don’t have any flight delays and get back to Chicago. [laughter] We’ll see where we’re at come Thursday or Friday and then make a determination. Obviously, the best case scenario would be me pitching for them in the next five to six days.
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