Mark Prior is "having a blast" playing independent league ball

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Mark Prior is making his latest and perhaps last comeback attempt with the Orange County Flyers of the independent Golden League, and Tom Krasovic of Fanhouse caught up with the former phenom who said he’s “having a blast … just getting back out there and just playing the game.”

Prior is seeing game action for the first time since 2008, when he “felt something like a firecracker going off in my shoulder” while trying to make it back to the majors with the Padres. Once a dominant starter with Hall of Fame potential Prior is now working as a reliever in the hopes that shorter outings can finally keep him healthy at age 29.

According to Krasovic his fastball is in the high-80s and low-90s, topping out at 92 miles per hour. Before all the injuries, Prior averaged 94 mph. However, just a few weeks ago he was struggling to crack 90 mph, so Prior is hopeful that he can add even more velocity as he progresses.

Assuming, of course, that he can stay healthy.

I’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s taken me awhile to get my arm healthy. I think it’s healthy. I think I’m starting to show that to people. Now I need to refine and retool everything after three or four years away from competitive games. I don’t think I’m going to come back as a starter right now. Right now my best goal and my best chance is to come back as a reliever.

I think my body will handle that better than trying to go out there and throw 110 pitches or 120 pitches every fifth day. Once I can show everybody that I’m healthy as a reliever, maybe get a full season under my belt as a reliever, maybe I’ll go back to that road [as a starter] and see what’s up.

Prior hasn’t been healthy and effective since 2005 and right now he’s pitching against low-level competition in front of a couple hundred fans per game, so regardless of role he’s still a long way from the big leagues.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.

Jason Kipnis diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates after scoring a run on a wild pitch thrown by Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs (not pictured) during the fifth inning in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.

There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.

Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.