COMMENTARY| Early into the Cincinnati Reds 2013 season, one of the weakest links for the team appears to be reliever J.J. Hoover, who has suffered three losses in the Reds first 10 games. Two of the losses came in extra innings and the third spoiled a comeback by the Reds offense after trailing 5-1 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Reds simply can't afford to blow these types of games just because one of their relievers can't get the job done.
Hoover pitched well in 2012 (2.05 ERA in 28 relief appearances) and won a bullpen spot in spring training this year, but his poor performances are likely helping him pack his bags for a trip back to the minors. Hoover's potential demotion sets the stage for an unlikely comeback story - the return of pitcher Mark Prior to the big leagues.
Prior encouraged Reds management enough in the spring to warrant a minor league contract with the Reds' Triple-A affiliate in Louisville, where Prior has proven serviceable in relief in the early going.
The Reds have two other veteran right-handed relievers in Jose Arredondo and Clay Hensley who could be promoted ahead of Prior, but both of them have struggled early and neither makes for the kind of story that a Prior reunion with Reds manager Dusty Baker would make.
Prior spent the injury-shortened first chapter of his career with the Chicago Cubs, but he hasn't pitched in the major leagues since 2006. Baker was his manager then in Baker's last year as Cubs manager in 2006.
Prior was a dominant starter for the Cubs in the team's 2003 season, in which he won 18 games and finished third for the NL Cy Young Award. The 2003 season for the Cubs ended after the Bartman incident ultimately led to a seven-game NLCS defeat.
Prior never regained his 2003 form during the rest of his time with Cubs. Injuries forced him out of the majors after 2006, and Prior wouldn't recover well enough until recently to make a serious comeback bid to return to the majors. Baker has received blame in the past for the health problems experienced by Prior, so it may be only fitting that Baker is the one who can provide Prior with this opportunity to stage the comeback.
Now that Prior apparently might be on the verge of returning to the majors, he wouldn't likely join the team until the Reds begin their upcoming 10-game homestand on April 15. If he does get the chance and shows he's still capable of pitching at this level, Prior could be on track for one of the more remarkable comeback stories in baseball history after not pitching in the majors for more than six years.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the 2012 Reds season here.
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