ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — J.A. Happ feels fortunate.
Less than 24 hours after he was hit on the head by a line drive and carted off the field, the Toronto Blue Jays pitcher was back at Tropicana Field on Wednesday.
The 30-year-old said he had a skull fracture behind his left ear that doctors believe will heal on its own, as well as a sore right knee that he tweaked when he dropped to the ground Tuesday night.
Otherwise, he felt pretty good after his release from Bayfront Medical Center. He does not have a concussion.
‘‘I feel really fortunate,’’ Happ said after limping into a room at Tropicana Field for a news conference and climbing a couple steps to sit down behind a table.
‘‘It looks like I moved just a little bit. I don’t remember doing that, but it looks like it was just enough to where it must have caught me in a better spot, because I think it could have got me head on,’’ he said. ‘‘I've got some stitches and there’s a fracture in the skull, I suppose, behind my ear, but it’s not serious or threatening. We'll let those heal.’’
Happ, who was put on the 15-day disabled list, had a brief conversation with Tampa Bay’s Desmond Jennings, who hit the line drive that caught him squarely on the left side of the head. Happ shook hands with several teammates outside the Blue Jays clubhouse while assuring each one: ‘‘I'm fine.’’
‘‘He just wished me the best and hoped for a quick recovery,’’ Happ said. ‘‘Obviously, something like that is never intentional. I let him know that I knew that and I appreciated him coming over. It’s a scary thing, I'm sure on his end, too.’’
Happ remembers releasing the ball.
‘‘I don’t remember seeing it,’’ he said. ‘‘ Just immediate loud ringing in my ear. Just pressure on my ear, and I was on the ground. That was kind of it. It took me a few seconds to kind of figure out what was going on, but I do remember them being there ... the coaches and Gibby (manager John Gibbons) and obviously the trainers. I was coherent and talking pretty quickly.’’
Though he’s confident he will pitch again, he’s not sure when.
‘‘From everything, CT scans of the brain, neck, spine and skull, it looks pretty good,’’ Happ said. ‘‘I don’t think there’s a ton of concern.’’
The hit, still being replayed on TV a day later, left some of his fellow players unsettled.
‘‘I felt horrible yesterday. I played with Happ last year for a little bit,’’ Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva said. ‘‘There’s a lot of talk out there about the gear and protective stuff. Hopefully, they'll come out with something that won’t affect us pitching out there, but it’s still such a fast game. What happens if the ball comes directly at your face? There’s nothing you can do. You can’t pitch with a mask on. It just comes down to the draw of the luck I guess.’’
Major League Baseball, meantime, is trying to determine the best way to protect pitchers from similar injuries.
The league’s senior vice president, Dan Halem, said a half-dozen companies were designing headgear for pitchers but no product so far was sufficiently protective and comfortable.
‘‘If it doesn’t absorb enough impact, then it may be ineffective,’’ he said.
Dr. Gary Green, MLB’s medical director, said the Head Injury Criterion (HIC) scale is being used to evaluate products and that a cap liner likely would have to be 8 ounces or lighter.
‘‘We've found some things that are very lightweight, but they’re not very protective, and then other things that might be protective but they are too heavy and don’t meet the other specifications,’’ he said.
Robert Vito, president of Pennsylvania-based Unequal Technologies Co., said a patent had been submitted for a product he hopes to make available in June. Vito said his employees met with pitchers, coaches and trainers from 26 big league teams during spring training..
‘‘My biggest concern coming from the MLB Players Association is the mirror test. When they put it on, it must be concealed protection that cannot be detected by the fan,’’ he said.
In testing the product, he had someone smash a Louisville Slugger bat into his chest.
‘‘Energy is like water. It’s got to go somewhere,’’ Vito said. ‘‘So the energy is either going to go into my body and devastate tissues, tendons and break ribs and crush my heart to where I'm bleeding out internally, or it’s going to get absorbed into the pad and then return some of that energy to the bat, all the while protecting me.’’
While Unequal has used Kevlar-based products in the past, Georgia-based Evoshield employs ‘‘gel-to-shell’’ technology.Continued...