Happ discharged day after liner strikes head

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ has been released from a Florida hospital, a day after he was hit on the head by a line drive.

Bayfront Medical Center said in a statement that Happ was discharged after being upgraded from fair to good condition on Wednesday. Happ was taken there after being struck on the left side of the head 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 hit squarely on the left side of his head by Desmond Jennings’ second-inning liner during Toronto’s 6-4 victory. The left-hander was immobilized on a backboard, lifted onto a stretcher and wheeled off the field.

It was a frightening scene Tuesday night at Tropicana Field, and it 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.

Happ 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.

The sound of a sharply hit baseball striking the Toronto pitcher’s skull could be heard all the way up in the press box before the stadium grew silent.

“It’s devastating. … I could barely watch it,” Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey said. “You just don’t know what to think, really. It paralyzes you a little bit. And when it sounds like two bats, when you hear the sound off the bat and it sounds like it hits another bat, it’s scary. It’s really, really scary. I just started praying in the spot. That’s all I knew to do.”

It was the fourth such episode in the last four months of major league regular and postseason play, beginning with the life-threatening injuries suffered by then-Oakland pitcher Brandon McCarthy.

McCarthy was hit in 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 the hospital six days later.

MLB vice president Dan Halem told ESPN on Wednesday morning that “nothing is imminent” with respect to the league giving its approval to protective headgear for pitchers. He said,”we’ve been active,” in referring to the effort to find a product that would pass MLB-commissioned safety testing.

Halem said MLB has held discussions with more than a dozen companies — six of which have submitted or are working on specific padded-cap liner products to potentially pass a “severity index” test and attain MLB’s approval.

Nine prototypes have been tested to date, Halem said, all from Georgia-based protective equipment manufacturer EvoShield, which Halem said is working to refine its product for further testing. The Pennsylvania-based company, Unequal Technologies, has also supplied test data of its padded cap prototype, containing military grade Kevlar, to MLB. But Halem said it didn’t meet the necessary standard.

“It’s not an easy engineering task to find something (sufficiently protective) to fit in or even over a cap,” Halem said.

MLB could implement the safety change in the minor leagues, as it did a few seasons ago with batting helmets, but would require the approval of the players’ union to make big leaguers wear them. MLB’s intention, according to Halem, is to offer anything it approves on a voluntary basis. There are no rules prohibiting a pitcher from electing to wear supplementary padding for a standard-issue cap.

As for the urgency in finding a suitably safe product to approve, Halem added, “we can’t put a product out there that gives a false sense of security.” Halem said he’s not aware of any pitchers who have decided on their own to try out a padded cap or other protective headgear product in a game. MLB has also maintained it is not examining anything beyond a padded cap, such as a helmet or visor, as some have suggested might be most effective in preventing injuries to pitchers on line drives to the head.

Major league general managers discussed the issue during their meetings in November and MLB presented several ideas at baseball’s winter meetings only weeks 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.”

Pitchers around the majors sounded resistant to a new product — 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.”

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 thinks 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?”

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN’s Willie Weinbaum was used in this report.

This article was originally posted on ESPN.com