Jim "Catfish" Hunter was conscious and responding to doctors' commands yesterday, three days after the Hall of Fame pitcher suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease fell down concrete steps at home and hit his head.

Hunter, 53, who pitched in the majors 15 years and earned five World Series rings, remained in critical condition in Pitt County Memorial Hospital's intensive care unit, hooked to a ventilator.

Doctors said Hunter, whose amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- a gradual, irreversible deterioration of the muscles -- was diagnosed last year, bruised his brain in the accident. He likely will require rehabilitation because he already was weakened by ALS.

"But it would be premature to even think about that," said Paul Cunningham, a trauma physician and professor of surgery at the East Carolina University School of Medicine. "His prognosis is still somewhat guarded. We're being hopeful as we can be, but we're taking things one day at a time."

Hospital spokesman Doug Boyd said Hunter regained consciousness yesterday after being unconscious much of the previous day. He began responding to commands -- "Wiggle your toes and that sort of thing," Boyd said.

Hunter's wife, Helen, and other relatives were gathered at the hospital but declined to talk to the media.

ROBINSON GOES HOME: Hall of Famer Frank Robinson was released from USC-Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital yesterday, two days after undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous prostate gland.

"He's doing well, that's why he was released only two days after the surgery," hospital spokesman Paul Dingsdale said. "They expect a full recovery. I understand he was in good spirits."

The operation, called a radical prostatectomy, was performed by Donald Skinner, chairman of urology at USC. According to Skinner, Robinson's prostate cancer was discovered as a result of an abnormal PSA blood test found during a routine physical examination earlier this year.

Robinson, 63, hit .294 with 586 home runs in a 21-year big league career, which ended in 1976.

The hospital said he plans to return as an analyst for Fox Sports on Aug. 28.