Tampa Bay Rays
Pitchers ponder how to protect themselves
ST. PETERSBURG -
It was after the shock of seeing the line drive slam into the side of J.A. Happ's head had subsided a bit - after word spread through the Rays dugout that as scary as it seemed, the Toronto starter would be OK - when the Tampa Bay pitchers discussed ways to avoid such incidents.
Matt Moore suggested a sensor inside the baseball and one inside the pitcher's cap that would cause the ball to explode when it came within a certain distance of the pitcher's head.
“That's Matt's great idea. I kind of like it,” Rays pitcher David Price said.
When it comes to the safety of the pitcher, there have been plenty of ideas and a few prototypes but no definitive action.
“It's definitely not fun to think about,” Moore said.
But it becomes a hot topic once a pitcher is struck in the head with a line drive.
Happ, the Toronto Blue Jays pitcher who was struck behind the left ear by a line drive off the bat of Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings, was fortunate to escape with a fracture and a cut.
Happ's biggest concern was the right knee injury sustained when he twisted and fell to the mound.
To many inside Tropicana Field that night, it was a frightening sight: Happ lying motionless on the field while team trainers and medical personnel rushed to his side.
Fortunately it's a scene that doesn't play out often.
Remarkably, it's one that doesn't play out more often, especially when you consider the speed in which the ball travels off the bat.
The pitcher stands 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate before be begins his windup. He's much closer to the batter after releasing the ball, making him the closest fielder to the hitter.
Does the pitcher really stand a chance?
Would he if he were wearing some type of protective head gear?
“I don't even know if that would've protected (Happ),” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
There are six companies designing protective head gear for pitchers, according to Dan Halem, Major League Baseball's senior vice president.
Unequal developed a Kevlar insert for the pitcher's caps. Evoshield has a “gel-to-shell” insert.
The key is to develop something light enough so as not to impede the pitcher's delivery and strong enough to protect him.
“It would be nice if something like that were possible,” Moore said.
Price talked about the possibility of pitchers wearing a facemask like the one worn in cricket. Rays pitcher Alex Cobb, a former high school quarterback, said anything closer to a helmet would be too much.
“Oh God, yes,” he said. “It was extremely uncomfortable as a football player, definitely as a pitcher.”
Price, Moore and Cobb said they would be willing to try a protective shield of some type.
“Absolutely, why not? If it's going to help protect me out there and not affect me too much, it's something I don't have a problem with at all,” Moore said. “I would definitely give it a shot.”
Said Cobb, “I'd think you'd be an idiot not to.”
The dangers facing pitchers were brought to the forefront last season when Oakland's Brandon McCarthy suffered a skull fracture, an epidural hemorrhage and a brain contusion when struck by a line drive.
Happ's injury reopened the discussions.
Maddon, though, thinks Major League Baseball should be beyond the discussion or research stage.
“Just don't keep talking about it, that maybe it should be done, and do it,” Maddon said. “For me, I think that's a real horrible moment and it happens rarely. I don't exactly know what can be done outside of a helmet to really, truly protect somebody.
“Technology as it is, maybe there is something lying out there that makes sense that is not going to be obtrusive to the pitcher, that permits him to do his job as he normally does without any kind of restriction. I don't know that. I'm more into, if you're going to talk about something, let's get it done as opposed to just talking about it.”
Information from other news sources was used in this report.
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