ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – J.A. Happ was discharged from hospital Wednesday with his head wrapped in a bandage and a brace on his right knee, an encouraging sight after the Toronto Blue Jays left-hander was struck by a sizzling line drive the previous night.
The club said Happ suffered a head contusion and laceration to his left ear in the frightening incident during the second inning of Tuesday’s 6-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, and he was expected to reconnect with his teammates at Tropicana Field later in the afternoon.
He was later placed on the 15-day disabled list, with the contract of right-hander Edgar Gonzalez selected from triple-A Buffalo.
In a statement released through Bayfront Medical Center on Wednesday morning, he said: “I’m in good spirits, 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 caught flush on the left side of the head by a Desmond Jennings laser, crumpling immediately to the mound face-down. The sight and sound of the impact was jarring for all in attendance at Tropicana Field.
The 30-year-old was admitted to hospital Tuesday night in fair condition and his condition was upgraded to good at roughly 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, according to hospital spokeswoman Emily Nipps.
There was no word on any potential disabled list stints or roster moves for the Blue Jays.
The injury called to mind similarly frightening incidents involving Colorado Rockies pitcher Juan Nicasio, who had his neck broken by a line drive in 2011, and Arizona Diamondbacks starter Brandon McCarthy, then of the Oakland Athletics, who required surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain.
While Happ appears to have avoided injuries as severe as those, it’s unclear what happened to his knee.
As it happened, Major League Baseball officials coincidentally met with a company looking to create some type of protective headgear for pitchers Wednesday morning.
Nothing is imminent, no prototypes have been tested since spring training and Daniel Halem, MLB’s senior vice-president, general counsel labour, said in an interview while 12 companies are actively pursuing some sort of product, “at this point we have not been provided a product that meets the safety criteria.”
One company, EvoShield, has produced a number of prototypes for a protective liner to be worn under caps, but hasn’t made enough progress yet.
Halem added that while baseball hasn’t approved any products yet, “if a pitcher wants to wear something under his cap, there’s no rule against that, but we wouldn’t be prepared to say the product is effective unless we were presented with testing data we were able to independently confirm.”
“It’s a very active process, it’s certainly an issue which everyone feels some urgency about, but we’re really beholden to the technology. As much as we’d like to have a product, we can’t invent one any quicker than is naturally going to happen.”
The stomach-turning injury cast a pall over a comeback win over the Rays as a sombre Blue Jays clubhouse post-game was weighed down by concern for their injured teammate.
Manager John Gibbons had little to offer about his condition beyond the running of tests on Happ to assess the extent of the damage, while word filtered out to players that he was alert.
“From what it sounds like so far, he’s in stable condition, he’s conscious and that’s all we know,” said Jose Bautista. “We’re hoping he recovers well and it doesn’t get serious. There’s always a chance of concussion when you hit your head like that, and we’re hoping he doesn’t get any symptoms like that.”
Bautista, first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and catcher J.P. Arencibia were among the players who had to fight the urge to run right towards Happ because the play was still alive, with Encarnacion having to retrieve the ball after it ricocheted into foul territory toward right field.
Gibbons and trainer George Poulis both jumped out of the dugout but had to pause until two runners scored and Jennings reached third base.
It was an awful position for everyone to be caught in, as the game became an afterthought.
“The instinct is that you want to run out there and try to help him but the ball’s live, guys are running home,” said Arencibia. “So I was in between, wanting to run out there, trying to stay home, and as soon as (Jennings) got to third base I ran out there. …
“It’s a gut-wrenching feeling when you see something like that happen. I saw Desmond Jennings too as soon as he hit him and he even winced and he’s got to run.”
Trainers and paramedics worked on Happ for roughly 10 minutes, immobilizing him before carting him off for transport to hospital. Ashen-faced players sat still in both dugouts as he was tended to, while a crowd of 10,273 at Tropicana Field was virtually silent.
Arencibia, among the handful of players who stayed near the mound as treatment was given, said Happ was responsive and talking to the people around him.
A loud round of applause erupted when Happ was taken off the field, ending an 11-minute delay.
“I was down there trying to get loose and keep my thoughts on him at the same time,” said Brad Lincoln, who began warming up before Happ was on the stretcher and was the first of four relievers to follow him in. “That was probably the most difficult part, just being able to try and lock in right there.
“As soon as it happened we all said a prayer for him and it’s a part of the game, unfortunately, it happens and you’ve just got to be able to move on from it and start concentrating on getting in there and pitching.”
Still, the moment was jarring for all in attendance, particularly the sound, which R.A. Dickey described as the ball hitting another bat.
“It’s scary, it is really scary,” said Dickey. I just started praying on the spot. That’s all I knew to do.”
Added Bautista: “By the loudness of the sound, I got pretty scared for him. I started running in toward the mound, then I saw the ball so I went after the ball after that, it was one of those moments where you don’t really know what to do. You know that the play is still alive, but you want to go aid your teammate. It was tough.”
Seeing Happ’s injury sucked the life from the Blue Jays dugout for several innings, but they got a spark in the seventh when Colby Rasmus hit a two-run homer and eventually erased a 4-1 deficit in the victory.
Players routinely asked Poulis for any updates on Happ’s condition.
“It took us a few innings to regroup,” said Adam Lind. “The energy in the dugout was very sad, we weren’t really in the mood, that was obvious. Then we got some hits, and that got our mind off things that were bad and pointed in the right direction.”
The pitchers, who are most directly in the line of fire, didn’t have the same luxury with Lincoln, Aaron Loup, Steve Delabar and Casey Janssen closing it out.
Those who didn’t take the mound had more time to contemplate it, although most understand they have to keep such thoughts from their mind.
“You certainly know it’s a possibility,” said Dickey. “Every time you get in the car, you know there’s a possibility you could get hit by another car, you don’t think about it, but you know it’s a possibility. If you dwell on that, who knows how that would manifest in your mechanics or your mentality attacking hitters. I’ve never really thought about it.”
The incident was reminiscent of one last Sept. 5, when Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Brandon McCarthy, then of the Oakland Athletics, was struck on the right side of the head by a liner off the bat of Los Angeles Angels infielder Erick Aybar, and underwent surgery the next day to relieve pressure on his brain.
Happ appears to have avoided the same severity of injury.
Here’s a sampling of the Twitter reaction to Happ’s injury:
Truly hope J.A Happ is OK and that his family, friends and everyone else in the Toronto organization is holding up through this tough time.