Aroldis Chapman’s injury is sickening but not surprising

Written By BY PATRICK FINLEY Staff Reporter Posted: 04/23/2014, 06:14am
Array Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman throws against the Seattle Mariners during an exhibition baseball game in Goodyear, Ariz., Monday, March 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) ORG XMIT: AZPS109

MESA, Ariz. — When he was a boy, Carlos Villanueva’s mom was worried sick it would happen.

Four years ago, Jason Hammel’s wife joked that she wanted to invent a helmet to protect her husband in the field.

So when Reds closer Aroldis Chapman was struck by a line drive traveling more than 100 mph Wednesday that broke a bone above his left eye and caused doctors to put a plate in his head Thursday, it was sickening and horrible — but not surprising.

“It seems like we have one of these things happen at least once or twice a year,” Cubs reliever Wesley Wright said. Last year, Wright played with the Rays’ Alex Cobb, who was struck by a line drive on the right ear in June.

Hammel, a Cubs starter, sees a day when a line drive does even worse damage than was inflicted on Chapman, who should return in six weeks or so.

“Honestly, someone’s definitely going to get seriously injured,” Hammel said. “I can see that happening.

“But, as with a lot of things, it’s kinda part of the agreement of going up there and being a pitcher.”

Or even a position player.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria was struck in the face by a batting-practice line drive in 1990 in the minors.

He underwent reconstructive jaw surgery — twice.

When he returned to play baseball a full year later, in Mexico, he flinched when he heard the crack of the bat.

“I kinda understand the feeling [Chapman] is probably going through right now,” Renteria said.

“Once you get back on the field and you start getting back in the rhythm of it, you start getting comfortable again.”

In January, Major League Baseball approved the use of padded caps made by IsoBlox, but the company is making a new prototype.

Diamondbacks right-hander Brandon McCarthy, who was hit in the head by a batted ball in 2012, said in January that the old versions weren’t game-ready.

Of seven Cubs pitchers consulted this week, none had held the new cap or seen it in the clubhouse. They’d seen pictures online and heard secondhand stories about their weight.

They were more concerned about fielding their position — or at least deflecting a ball — than fitting themselves in a new cap.

Pitchers are creatures of routine and superstition.

A heavier, albeit safer, cap scratches neither itch.

“If they had something that was a cooler design and not as bulky, that would be great,” said reliever James Russell, who talked to McCarthy about them.

‘‘I still don’t even know if I’d wear one.”

Left-hander Chris Rusin wouldn’t, either.

“As of right now,” he said, “I’ve heard bad things about it.”

Of course, a new cap wouldn’t have covered Chapman’s face.

“You can’t really put a net in front of anybody,” said Villanueva, the Cubs’ union rep.

Starter Jake Arrieta recalled a scene in the movie “Dumb and Dumber” in which Jeff Daniels’ character, being fitted for a bulletproof vest, asks what happens if he’s shot in the face.

“We’re all very aware of the issue, but there’s only so much you can do,” Arrieta said, “without putting a cage on a guy’s head out there.”


Twitter: @patrickfinley

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