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03/27/08 4:00 PM ET

Prior takes a step forward

Padres righty throws off mound to live hitters

PEORIA, Ariz. -- When the Padres placed right-hander Mark Prior on the 60-day disabled list on Wednesday, it wasn't by any means an admission that his recovery from shoulder surgery had hit a roadblock.

If anything, Prior took a leap forward in his recovery, throwing 25 pitches off a mound to live hitters for the first time since he had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder 11 months ago.

"I thought he looked good. He threw free and easy; his delivery looked good; the ball was coming out of his hand great," Padres manager Bud Black said. "It was very encouraging. It was another step in the progression, and he's answered them all."

Prior was pleased with his outing, if for no other reason than it broke up the monotony of throwing to only a catcher while his teammates are playing in games and getting ready for the regular season.

"The main goal was to get on the mound, face some hitters and get out OK," Prior said. "It's funny. That's the goal, and you get three or four pitches in and start getting upset at yourself for missing spots, missing your location and stuff like that.

"Overall, the fact that I'm even at where I am right now, I'm happy. I've got a long way to go and a lot of work, but it's just another little milestone you can check off and keep going forward."

On the final day in Peoria for the Padres -- the team will depart for San Diego following the game against the Mariners -- Prior threw 30-35 pitches in the bullpen to warm up before throwing 25 more pitches (fastballs and changeups, no breaking balls) to Paul McAnulty, Callix Crabbe and newcomer Justin Huber.

"It's was a little different," Prior said of facing actual hitter for once. "It was nice to see their reaction to how I'm throwing, even though they're way ahead of me as far as being prepared. It was good to get in there and see where you're at."

So where is Prior? Now that he's been placed on the 60-day disabled list, he will not be eligible to return to the Major Leagues until mid-May, which is perfectly fine with the Padres and Prior, who will be allowed to go at his own pace as he moves ahead with his rehabilitation.

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"I kind of expected to go on the 60-day DL knowing that June 1 was kind of the tentative date," Prior said. "It puts me in a situation come May 10 where if I feel outstanding, it allows me not to push the issue and come back too early before I'm ready and then a month later saying, 'We might have pushed this.'"

Prior had worked up to the point where he was throwing off a mound every fifth day, a routine that will be altered slightly now that he's throwing batting practice.

The Padres have mapped out a schedule where he'll throw every fifth day, along with some extra side work, before throwing a simulated game sometime down the road. He will throw again on Saturday and then again on Tuesday.

Black was asked when Prior might be ready for the first of what could be around five Minor League rehabilitation assignments.

"That's so far away," Black said. "The timetable for him is not any time before 60 days. I think it gives him peace of mind as well where he knows he won't have to rush, even if he is feeling good. There is still a healing process that's taking place in the shoulder."

If nothing else, Prior's batting-practice session on Thursday was a start. And after a lot of downtime, and down times, the right-hander is looking ahead to brighter days.

"It was a lot of trying times after surgery. ... There were a lot of good days, a lot of bad days, a lot of stagnant days where nothing's really happening," Prior said. "I've pretty much approached this rehab, one, knowing that it's going to work and I'm confident that I'm going to back and pitching in the big leagues effectively. And two, understand that it's going to take time. You can't rush it. ... When it happens, it's going to happen."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.