Mark Prior, a University of San Diego High alumnus that maintains a San Diego home, enjoyed watching the 2007 Padres so much while rehabbing his shoulder he’s decided to stick around for 2008.

The 2003 season All-Star pitcher with the Chicago Cubs signed a one-year deal with the Padres, it was announced Wednesday. Prior had shoulder surgery in April, 2007, and he hopes to be ready to join the Padres rotation in mid- to late-May.

“I’m excited,” Prior said. “There are so many things that are right about coming home and playing in San Diego. I got a taste of it with Chicago pitching in my home city (at Qualcomm Stadium) and at Petco Park. Those were fun times but hectic because you’re in and out. I’m looking forward to being in San Diego and helping the Padres win ballgames. I’m really excited — this will be a great summer.”

Prior, a 6-foot-5, 230-pounder right-hander that drew comparisons to Tom Seaver in 2003, is still only 27 years old despite making a come back from recent injury-plagued seasons. In 2003, he finished third in the Cy Young Award voting when he posted a record of 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA.

Although he has been on and off the disabled list in 2004 (Achilles’ tendonitis), 2005 (elbow) and 2006 (shoulder), Prior says he and doctors have a better understanding of what ailed him in 2006.

In April, 2007, Dr. James Andrews performed exploratory surgery on his shoulder to determine the exact nature of his injury. A torn labrum that wasn’t detected from previous medical exams was repaired during the surgery.

“There were hot spots but nothing definitive from the MRI and other tests,” Prior said. “Having (Dr. Andrews) go in and figure what was wrong and waking up and having him tell me what they did gave a lot of clarity of what I was dealing with and what I was feeling.”

Andrews is noted for repairing shoulder injuries in baseball pitchers and football quarterbacks. He did the repair work on former Chargers quarterback Drew Brees, who came back from a torn labrum suffered in the Chargers’ final game of the 2005 season to make the Pro Bowl in 2006 with the New Orleans Saints.

Prior said he is encouraged with the progress of his throwing and plans to start working on his pitching mechanics in about a month.

Padres manager Bud Black envisions a four-man rotation of Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Greg Maddux and Randy Wolf. The fifth spot is up for grabs until Prior can work his way into the mix.

“I think this is a great day for the Padres,” Black said. “This strengthens an already strong pitching staff. We feel with Mark’s rehab progress and the diagnosis from Dr. Andrews he’ll be ready when he’s ready to go. We feel we have an impact guy who can step in and help our pitching staff.”

— TOM SHANAHAN

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