SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Mark Prior is making yet another pitch to return to the big leagues.
The 32-year-old Prior signed a minor league contract Friday with the Cincinnati Reds, marking this the fourth straight spring in which the oft-injured righty has attempted a comeback.
Prior has not appeared in the majors since 2006. He pitched for Boston’s Triple-A affiliate last season, making 19 relief appearances with a 3.96 ERA.
This move reunites Prior and Reds manager Dusty Baker;hey were together with the Chicago Cubs early in Prior’s career.
“He called me in the winter. We talk sometimes. He sends my wife updates on the kids,” Baker said Friday. “He never asked me for anything. He said, ‘Hey man, I’d like to try it one more time.’ I told him, ‘If I can help you, I’ll make the opportunity.'”
Baker was criticized by some for overusing Prior, but the pitcher never blamed the manager. A friendship between them led to this latest chance.
Baker got the OK from Reds general manager Walt Jocketty before Prior was brought to camp. Prior joined the Reds after passing a physical.
Prior was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2001 draft and was in the majors the next season at 21.
Baker arrived in Chicago the following year, and 2003 was a big year for Prior and the Cubs. He went 18-6 and was an All-Star, and the Cubs came within one win of reaching the World Series.
Prior was 6-4 in 2004 and 11-7 in 2005. In Baker’s last season with the Cubs in 2006, Prior reported to spring training with a sore shoulder.
Together, they sat in Baker’s office.
“It was one of the sickest days I’ve had,” Baker said. “I was kind of told, which I will never do again, to cover it up, or say he had another injury. It just postponed the criticism and ridicule. I said that I was ready to take it. Sometimes you get a mandate to do things a different way. I didn’t like that.”
Baker warned Prior that if he signed with the Reds this year, it would open up old wounds, as the two would be reminded of those hurtful days.
“My wounds are keloid,” Baker said. “Scars on top of scars. It doesn’t matter to me. It only matters what (the players) think.”
“There isn’t a manager around that doesn’t have someone that was seriously hurt. The longer you’re around, the more chance you have to someone that was really hurt,” he said.
Baker just thought Prior deserved an opportunity, saying he admired the hard work Prior has put into a comeback.
Prior’s last game in the majors was Aug. 10, 2006, for the Cubs. He lasted just three innings and gave up six runs. He spent the next three years out of baseball.
In 2010, Prior pitched for Orange County in the independent Golden Baseball League. The Texas Rangers signed him from there, and he appeared in one game at Oklahoma City. Prior pitched 11 games in the New York Yankees’ organization in 2011, then joined the Boston system.
“I’ve been keeping up with him the whole time,” Baker said. “He doesn’t have the same velocity, but he has the savvy. He’s probably a reliever now versus a starter.”