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Prior will face Pittsburgh

CHICAGO (AP) -- Mark Prior is ready to pitch.

On the disabled list since spring training, Prior is scheduled
to make his season debut Friday for the Chicago Cubs against the
Pittsburgh Pirates.

"It hurts me more than anything to miss two months because you
know you are letting your teammates down and your friends," Prior
said Monday. "All I know is what I have in front of me and what I
control. And that's the next four months."

After being sidelined with an inflamed right Achilles' tendon
and sore right elbow, Prior was impressive in his third rehab start
Sunday when he allowed two runs and three hits while striking out
10 in 5 1-3 innings for Triple-A Iowa.

Now, he's ready to return to Wrigley Field for the first time
since last year's dramatic Game 6 of the NL championship series.

"I'm not going to go out there and throw a complete game by any
means on Friday," Prior said. "There will be some limitations and
restrictions, but given the situation, I think it's the right
time."

Prior, who also made two rehab starts at Class A Lansing, is
among nine Cubs on the disabled list, a group that includes fellow
pitcher Kerry Wood (triceps) and star right fielder Sammy Sosa
(back).

"I don't think I'm rushing," Prior said. "After my second
start in Lansing, I was a little nervous because I didn't think my
stuff was up to the level where it should be. But yesterday I felt
my stuff was ready to get people out."

Prior went on the disabled list last season after hurting his
shoulder in a basepath collision with Atlanta's Marques Giles.

When he returned, he was better than ever. In his final 11
starts after rejoining the rotation, he went 10-1 with a 1.52 ERA,
pitching the Cubs into the playoffs.

"Having Mark back is huge," manager Dusty Baker said. "Not
only psychologically, but it helps us physically, too. Every time
we get these guys back, it's like making a trade. You're getting
quality guys back."

The Cubs will put Prior on a pitch limit Friday.

"I know what my job is. My job is to give them quality innings
and pitch my game," Prior said. "My job is not to come in here
and do anything over the top. I know what I have to do to be
successful."

Prior went 18-6 last season in his full major league season and
made the All-Star team. He was 1-0 in the division series against
Atlanta and 1-1 against the Marlins in the NL championship.

He took a three-hit shutout into the eighth inning of Game 6,
but after a fan got in left fielder Moises Alou's way as he tried
to catch a foul fly, the Cubs became unglued. With Chicago five
outs away from the World Series, Florida scored eight runs for a
stunning victory.

The Marlins went on to win Game 7 before beating the Yankees in
the World Series.

The Cubs also hope Wood can start throwing by the end of the
week and they'll eventually get their projected starting rotation
together for the first time all season with their two aces at the
top.

"When you go into the season thinking you got (Clement), Greg
(Maddux) and (Carlos) Zambrano as three, four and five, then all of
a sudden you're going without 1 and 2 for a while, it's tough,"
general manager Jim Hendry said.