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Red Sox teammate laments release of Mark Prior

08.17.12 at 6:54 pm ET
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NEW YORK — It had the promise of being one of the great comeback stories in the majors this year. Instead, Mark Prior‘s tenure with the Red Sox came to a sudden and disappointing halt on Friday.

The 31-year-old right-hander, who hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2006 and hadn’t thrown more than a dozen innings in any season since then, agreed to a minor league deal with the Sox in April. Assigned to Triple-A Pawtucket, he showed tremendous promise for a spell. Though he walked plenty of hitters, opponents simply couldn’t hit him for much of the first half, as the right-hander was able to produce enough deception with his 90-92 mph fastball and to spin his breaking ball well enough that he recorded an amazing 20.3 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.89 ERA in the first half.

However, he suffered a mild oblique injury that landed him on the DL in late-June, and after returning, he struggled. His punchouts fell roughly in half (to 10.0 per nine innings) and he continued to struggle with his control (7.6 walks per nine) resulting in a 4.70 ERA in the second half, including a yield of five runs in 4 1/3 innings over his final three appearances.

“He’s striking out a couple guys an inning which is very good. But the walks, a lot of them are a situation here in the second half. The first half we threw a lot of strikes. The second half, we haven’t thrown that many of them,” said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler. “Guys come out of the bullpen, walk the leadoff guy, four-pitch walk up in the zone, working behind in the count, that’s kind of what we’ve seen.”

As such, with the acquisition of a new bullpen arm on the 40-man roster in Pedro Beato — whom the Sox acquired on Thursday to complete the trade for catcher Kelly Shoppach — the Sox needed a spot on the Pawtucket roster, and released Prior on Friday. His former PawSox teammate, Clayton Mortensen — who roomed with Prior on roadtrips and was his throwing partner — was disappointed to hear the news.

“Damn, that sucks,” said Mortensen. “He’s a really good dude, man. He worked his butt off to get back to where he’s at. His main thing is just staying healthy. If he’s healthy, he’s an effective pitcher. It’s not like how he was — 95, 96 and dominating — but he still has that sneaky fastball and a good breaking ball. There’s definitely upside to him, for sure. If he just sticks to it, finishes the year healthy, coming into next year, you never know. I’m kind of bummed to hear that. That’s just the way it works sometimes.

“Everyday I saw what he was working with. He was grinding it out, doing what he had to do. He was getting outs, had a little injury, a little setback, then he had to re-find everything you just worked for. It’s tough.”

Prior was incredibly well-liked by those who crossed paths with him in Pawtucket thanks to the fact that he spent little time bemoaning his fate as an incredibly promising young starter whose career was derailed before it had a chance to take off due to shoulder injuries. The right-hander embraced the challenge of trying to work his way back to the majors, even though he was dealing with a diminished arsenal.

“He could sit back, take a look at his whole career including where he’s at right now. Very down to earth. He doesn’t act like I was one of the most dominating pitchers of his time. He was just a regular dude,” said Mortensen. “I really enjoyed playing with him.”

Prior recently discussed his comeback attempt on this podcast.

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