Reds closer Aroldis Chapman was hit above the left eye by a line drive off the bat of the Royals' Salvador Perez in the sixth inning of the game between Cincinnati and Kansas City in Surprise, Arizona on Wednesday night. Chapman never lost consciousness or mobility in his limbs, but was immediately immobilized and taken to a local hospital where he was diagnosed with fractures above his left eye and nose and held overnight for observation.
UPDATE: Chapman is expected to make a full recovery, according to team doctors.
Chapman's father, who was in attendance at the game and consoled Chapman on the mound, accompanied him to the hospital. The game, which the Royals were leading 6-3 with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth, was ended in the wake of the incident by agreement of both managers and umpire crew chief Chris Cuccione.
Here's footage of the play from the Royals' broadcast:
This is the latest in what seems like an increasingly frequent series of pitchers being badly injured by comebackers, with Chapman following the Rays' Alex Cobb, the Blue Jays' J.A. Happ, and then-A's starter Brandon McCarthy. The latter two suffered skull fractures and all three were hit in the side or back of the head. Chapman's injuries are all the more alarming because he was hit in the face, bringing back unfortunate memories of pitchers from Herb Score to Bryce Florie, neither of whom was able to return to his former heights after being hit in the face.
In these first few hours after Chapman's injury, we obviously have no idea what the future holds for the 26-year-old Cuban fireballer, though he will likely open the season on the disabled list. There, he'll join lefty set-up man Sean Marshall, who has not appeared in a game this spring due to shoulder stiffness, and possibly even Jonathan Broxton, who is coming off surgery to repair a torn flexor mass tendon in his right elbow and just made his spring debut on Monday. Broxton is the pitcher most likely to take over the closer job to start the season, but if he is unable to break camp with the team, that job could trickle down to the likes of Sam LeCure or J.J. Hoover.
Meanwhile, Chapman's injury will once again sound the alarm for protective headgear for pitchers. Major League Baseball approved a padded cap in January, but even McCarthy, who has been working with Baseball to find a workable solution to protect pitchers, has declined to wear the padded cap this spring, describing it as too bulky and hot to wear comfortably on the mound. It's not clear that even a padded cap would have protected any of the pitchers listed above. McCarthy, Happ, and Cobb were all hit below the cap line, and Chapman, Florie, and Score were all hit in the face.
In the meantime, we can only hope that this injury is not a career-changing one for Chapman, who ranks among the best closers in the game and among the hardest throwers and most extreme strikeout-pitchers in the game's history. That last is an ominous parallel to Score, whose career strikeout rate was the highest in the game's history when he was hit by Gil McDougald's comebacker in May 1957. Among pitchers with 20 or more innings pitched in their careers, Chapman currently ranks second in strikeouts per nine innings.