“Normal nerves I used to get when I was pitching,” he said.
The nerves subsided during batting practice, and when he came in to pitch the fifth inning — the inning he knew would be his — he went through a 1-2-3 inning with two routine pop ups and a strikeout. The strikeout came on the split finger he’s been working on this spring.
“Breaking ball was terrible, but I guess it’s understandable,” he said. “I haven’t thrown them a lot, I’ve been mostly trying to get comfortable with the split finger. The one that I struck out the second guy with, I thought was pretty good. I had a good feel for that. Breaking ball is something that, for me, always took time and it took me facing hitters to kind of get that release point, before it kind of gets locked in.”
More important right now, Prior said, was his fastball command. He doesn’t know how hard he was throwing — “Either they weren’t seeing it well out of my hands, or it was getting on them,” he said — but he was happy with the way he located.
Kind of like Derek Jeter’s altered mechanics, Prior’s return to pitching is going to take more than one or two innings. It’s a process that will probably include a stop in the minor leagues before he’s ready to return to the Majors for the first time since 2006.
“I understand what I signed up for,” Prior said. “I understand the situation here, my situation. I know I haven’t pitched, I mean, I haven’t really pitched since 2005. Even though I pitched in 2006, it wasn’t really pitching, it was surviving. Or trying to. I understand that just because you go out and throw one inning, that’s not going to make or break what they see and what I feel. I understand that I need to get famliar with the process.
“I think the learning curve, or the re-whatever curve, could be fast. But it’s just a matter of going out there and getting some innings under my belt.”
Here’s Prior after today’s scoreless inning.
Associated Press photo of Prior throwing live batting practice last week