CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs got good news on Mark Prior, who suffered a compression fracture in his right elbow and could be back pitching this year, depending on how quickly he's pain-free.
Prior was hit by a line drive by Colorado's Brad Hawpe in the fourth inning Friday. Cubs athletic trainer Mark O'Neal said Saturday that an MRI revealed a compression fracture of the lateral epicondyl of Prior's right elbow, not a hairline fracture as earlier reported.
"It could've been a lot worse -- it could've been my career," Prior said Saturday, his right arm in a sling. "It's part of the game. Everybody knows the risks of going out there and playing. The game's supposed to be fun, but there are some inherent risks that go with it. I'll be back. I've been hit before. It's no big deal."
Cubs pitchers Joe Borowski and Mike Remlinger both have dealt with non-displaced fractures this year, but O'Neal said this is different. There is an outer and inner layer of the bone, and the outer layer of the bone in Prior's elbow was "not compromised," O'Neal said.
"That would be a linear fracture -- he does not have that," O'Neal said. "He has a compression where the bone inside was compressed.
"We feel very fortunate that this is the fracture that he has," O'Neal said. "It's not something like with Joe where we'd have to take four to six weeks to let this heal. We're basically going to be on Mark's time frame. When he has full, pain-free range of motion, we can progress from there."
The Cubs cannot give a timetable for the right-hander's return because it all depends on Prior, O'Neal said.
"There's no way I can give you a timetable on this," O'Neal said. "The recovery for this will be completely dictated by the way that Mark feels. When he has a full, pain-free range of motion -- and I cannot predict that, no one can predict that right now -- we'll be able to progress. I can't begin to tell you how long it'll be."
The entire incident happened very quickly, Prior said.
"I threw the pitch, and saw him hit it and more than anything I instinctively reacted and obviously didn't get out of the way in time," Prior said. "I didn't have much time to think about anything. Obviously, I was on the ground and I knew it hurt. By the time [assistant trainer Ed Halbur] got out there, I said, 'Get me off the field.'"
Cubs physician Dr. Stephen Adams examined Prior in the training room before he went to a hospital for X-rays. That initial exam helped ease some of Prior's fears.
"Initially, I thought, 'Hey, it could be shattered, I could be done and there's really no recovery from that,'" Prior said. "I knew there was something wrong because the pain was pretty bad. You hope for the best, move on, and get through it."
He has watched a replay of the scene, including the part where he's writhing on the field in obvious pain.
"I watched it over and over again," Prior said. "It was a good play by [Aramis Ramirez, who caught the ball after it hit Prior's elbow]. I got hit. Hitters get hit by pitches all the time. Obviously, the ball came back a little harder than I threw it. I was just fortunate to get an assist on it. It helps my fielding percentage."
This is the fifth time since Prior, 24, broke into the big leagues in 2002 that he will be on the disabled list, and second time this season. From Sept. 2-17, 2002, he was sidelined with a strained left hamstring suffered while running the bases, and he was out July 12-Aug. 4, 2003, with a right shoulder contusion from a collision with Atlanta's Marcus Giles.
From March 26-June 4, 2004, Prior was benched because of a sore right Achilles, and he opened this year on the disabled list to give him more time to rehab a sore right elbow.
The right-hander with the near perfect mechanics has yet to complete a full season. This year, he was 4-1 with a 2.93 ERA before Hawpe's line drive connected with his elbow.
Prior had 62 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings, and opponents were batting .194 against him. He was 3-0 with a 1.83 ERA at Wrigley Field. And now he's on the sidelines again.
"I love to listen to everybody dwell on the fact of how many times I've been on the DL, but I've only been on the DL once from a throwing related problem," he said. "This is something that's freakish that happened, and that I had no control over. It's not from a lack of preparation or a lack of working toward what the goal is, which is giving your team a chance to win. It happens. It's part of the game.
Mark Prior / P
Weight: 230 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"I'll give it it's time to heal and hopefully I'm back and pitching as well as I was before it happened," he said. "I felt I was back to my form of 2003 -- minus the fifth inning in Houston [on May 1 when he gave up seven runs]. I thought I was pitching pretty well."
Which is why his injury is a serious blow to the Cubs, who have had their share of injuries this year. The Cubs started the season with Prior, Borowski and Scott Williamson on the DL, and have added Todd Walker (knee), Nomar Garciaparra (groin), Kerry Wood (shoulder), Chad Fox (elbow) and Remlinger (finger).
"There are some risks playing the game," Prior said. "It's not checkers. You don't show up and move the little things. There's some injuries that go along with the game. We've had a bad streak here the last couple years and had some weird things happen. You deal with what you've got. You can't dwell on it.
"We can't feel sorry for ourselves," Prior said. "I'm not going to feel sorry for myself. I know what the risks are when I go out there and pitch. Every time, you're at risk of having something bad happen."
O'Neal said because the injury is on the lateral side of Prior's elbow, it could help his recovery time.
"This is the side that whenever you release the ball, you get some sort of pressure, but it's not a pitching-type injury or where there's a lot of torque or pressure," O'Neal said.
The Cubs called up right-handed pitcher Roberto Novoa to take Prior's place on the roster, but Todd Wellemeyer may be slotted into the vacant spot in the rotation. That's to be determined, Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
It's been a rough two years for the Cubs and injuries.
"One thing's for sure, these guys are very resilient," Baker said. "Hopefully somebody else will emerge a la Neifi Perez when Nomar went down. You have to stay focused, stay positive and realize you have a job to do."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.