May 8, 2013

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

By Fred Goodall / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Homer Bailey doesn't like the idea of wearing protective headgear.

"The game's been played a long time. Situations like that are unfortunate, but we have to keep it our game," he said. "I don't think you have to adjust the whole program."

And Seattle Mariners right-hander Aaron Harang thought it would be difficult for veteran major league pitchers to adapt to new equipment.

"I know it's a hot topic," he said, "but I don't think it's a problem that's easily solved. I know a lot of people want pitchers to start wearing helmets. It's a good idea in theory, but I don't know how practical it is. I think you need to start with that at the lower level, I'm talking high school and maybe even lower, and then gradually introduce it into the higher level. I've been pitching since I was 6 years old and I've never worn a helmet. I think it would be tough to make that adjustment while pitching in a major league game."

Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington wondered if there's a viable solution.

"What can you do?" he said. "Tell hitters not to hit it back up the middle?"

Oakland right-hander Brandon McCarthy was hit on the head by a line drive last September, causing a skull fracture, an epidural hemorrhage and a brain contusion that required surgery. He was released from a hospital six days later.

McCarthy, who pitched for Arizona on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, said he won't watch video of Happ getting hit.

"I don't know what the GMs and the owners have to do with anything. It's not like they're pitching," McCarthy said. "Until someone makes something that works, it's going to be tough for someone to wear it.

"Most everything that's come out wouldn't have protected me, and it wouldn't have protected (Happ) if he got hit directly in the ear. You're at a point now where you're looking at batting helmets. You'd have to have something that protected the ear and then the face and beyond. So it's kind of a slippery slope. Someone will have to come up with something really good and really sound. Otherwise, I don't know how you answer that question."

Still, McCarthy maintains hope.

"We've put things on the moon before, so I feel like we can create some sort of a device that sits over your head and protects you," he said. "Someone will do it. It's just a matter of when, not if."

Jennings' liner caromed off Happ's head and halfway up the right-field line in foul territory as Jennings raced around the bases for a two-run triple. The 30-year-old Happ dropped face down at the front of the mound, holding his head with his glove and bare hand.

Team trainers, paramedics and medical officials rushed to Happ's aid as a stunned crowd of 10,273 at Tropicana Field fell into a horrified hush. A shaken Jennings stood with his hands on his head, and other players were visibly concerned as they watched Happ receive medical attention for about eight minutes.

The pitcher was wheeled off the field to a waiting ambulance. Just before he disappeared under the stands, Happ raised his right hand and waved. He received a standing ovation from the crowd, and the game resumed after an 11-minute delay.

"I came in and watched it and I wish I wouldn't have," Mariners pitcher Joe Saunders said after looking at the video. "It was ugly. It was scary. I just hope he's going to be all right."

NOTES: Toronto filled Happ's roster spot by bringing up right-hander Edgar Gonzalez from Triple-A Buffalo of the International League (AAA).

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