May 8, 2013

J.A. Happ's hit on head revives questions about protecting pitchers

By Fred Goodall / The Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ was released Wednesday from a Florida hospital, just a day after he was hit on the head by a line drive, and hopes for a quick return to the mound.

click image to enlarge

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ holds his head after being hit in the head by a line drive from Tampa Bay Rays' Desmond Jennings during the second inning of a baseball game Tuesday in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Associated Press

Bayfront Medical Center said in a statement that Happ was discharged after being upgraded from fair to good condition. Happ was taken there after being struck on the left side of the head by a ball off the bat of Desmond Jennings during Tuesday night's game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Blue Jays said Happ was responsive and feeling better after sustaining a head bruise and cut to his the left ear.

"I'm in good spirits," Happ said in a statement released by the hospital. "I definitely appreciate the support of the baseball community. It's been overwhelming, the messages and kind words I've been getting. I just want to thank everyone for that, and I look forward to getting back out there soon."

Happ was placed on the 15-day disabled list rather than the seven-day concussion DL.

His frightening injury at Tropicana Field left players on both teams shaken and revived questions about whether Major League Baseball is doing enough to protect pitchers, who often find themselves in harm's way on the mound.

The pitcher raised his glove in front of his face as quickly as he could, a futile attempt to shield himself from the batted ball headed straight for his temple.

It was too late. Thwack!

The sickening sound of a sharply hit baseball striking his skull was heard all the way up in the press box.

And then, sheer silence.

Happ, hit squarely in the second inning during Toronto's 6-4 victory, was immobilized on a backboard, lifted onto a stretcher and wheeled off the field.

It was the latest injury to a pitcher struck by a batted ball in the last few years, and baseball has discussed ways to protect hurlers who ply their craft against the world's strongest hitters – only 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate.

General managers discussed the issue during their meetings in November and MLB presented several ideas at the winter meetings weeks later.

MLB staff have said a cap liner with Kevlar, the material used in body armor for the military, law enforcement and NFL players, is among the ideas under consideration.

The liners, weighing perhaps 5 ounces or less, would go under a pitcher's cap and help protect against line drives that often travel over 100 mph.

"We are actively meeting with a number of companies that are attempting to develop a product, and have reviewed test results for several products," MLB spokesman Pat Courtney wrote in an email to The Associated Press after Happ was injured. "Some of the products are promising. No company has yet developed a product that has satisfied the testing criteria."

Several pitchers around the majors sounded resistant – even after seeing replays of Happ's injury.

"You know the risks," Angels lefty C.J. Wilson said. "Guys get hurt crashing into fences. Guys get hurt tripping over first base and blowing their knee out. This is professional sports, and we are paid well to take those risks."

MLB could implement the safety change in the minor leagues, as it did a few seasons ago with augmented batting helmets, but would require the approval of the players' union to make big leaguers wear them.

Colorado Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa said if a helmet or liner is developed for pitchers, he'd gladly wear one.

"It wouldn't be hard for me," De La Rosa said. "To protect against those kinds of things, it's good for us."

(Continued on page 2)

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