Batters always at risk despite protection
MILWAUKEE (AP) Life can change in a second in the batter's box.
That's roughly the amount of time, sometimes less, that a major league hitter has to decide whether to swing at a pitch - or perhaps duck out of the way. The faster the pitch, the less time to react.
Most at-bats don't end in harm, of course. But for all the helmets, elbow guards and padded flaps available to protect various body parts, no batter is ever really 100 percent safe at the plate.
Never was that more apparent than Thursday night, when Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton got hit square in the face by a pitch that got away from Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Mike Fiers.
''When you see a man, a baseball player, on the ground, hurt - no matter what team, what player - he's hurt and you feel bad,'' Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez said. ''Hopefully, mentally, (it) won't have an effect.''
Stanton said Friday on Twitter that he was feeling much better after sustaining facial fractures and other injuries. But his MVP-caliber season is likely over - he leads the National League with 37 homers and 105 RBIs.
Chase Headley of the New York Yankees also got hit in the face by a pitch Thursday night, opening a cut on his chin. But he sat up after a couple of minutes and walked off the field. A day later, it sounded as though he was OK.
Gomez said he's been hit in the jaw and twice on his helmet, causing concussions.
''I've been there before: I've been hit in the head. And this is scary,'' said Gomez, who often wears a cushioned pad around his left elbow.
But all that protection might not help much if a hitter guesses wrong on a pitch, or it has more movement than anticipated.
''Sometimes you expect something and you have it in your mind, OK, this pitch is supposed to be that way, and you kind of dive a little bit and you get hit,'' Gomez said. ''Yesterday, it was ugly and scary and, you know, I don't want to see anybody in that situation.''
Brewers hitting coach Johnny Narron said the dangers of getting into the batter's box often go unnoticed.
''That danger's always present, and that is one of the parts of hitting that is very difficult. A lot of people don't talk about that danger factor, that injury factor that they're faced with every time they get in the batter's box,'' Narron said.
He trains his hitters to turn down and away from an incoming pitch, the kind of advice Narron said should be given to players from the time they are Little Leaguers if they're getting good coaching. That way, a pitch is more likely to hit them in the back or the helmet, rather than their face.
''It takes a lot of mental strength and a lot of guts just to get in that batter's box and face pitchers who are throwing that hard,'' Narron said.
One of the most pressing dangers comes when a fastball tails up and in, which is what happened when the right-handed Fiers hit the right-handed Stanton, who was in the middle of his swinging motion. Fiers' fastball was clocked at 88 mph.
''Just with how much it rode in and flew in on him, there really is nothing you can do,'' said Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino, who has been hit by pitches an AL-high 15 times. ''If you can see it early enough or it doesn't ride that far in you can just try and duck your shoulder, but he was so committed and it almost looked like that ball started right down the middle.''
Getting out of the way isn't something hitters can necessarily practice, either.
''No. It's just something that, hopefully it hits you where there is plenty of meat in the back or somewhere on the arm, but once you get those head, neck, head, elbows, that's when you get those lingering feelings,'' Zunino said.
Whenever Stanton does come back, he could elect to wear a protective flap on his helmet, like the one Atlanta's Jason Heyward has worn since breaking his right jaw when he was hit in the face by a pitch from Jonathon Niese of the New York Mets last season.
Approached in Texas, where the Braves are playing the Rangers, Heyward only said he supported Stanton, and that the headgear doesn't bother him.
Giants pitcher Tim Hudson said he might have one or two pitches get away from him in the course of a game. Most major league pitchers usually have good control and command, Hudson said.
''Reaction times are very small for hitters. A lot of times when balls go up and in to hitters or line drives back at the pitchers, and they just miss, everybody's like, `Whew, that was close,''' Hudson said. ''You kind of forget about it, but at the same time you were a foot from potentially getting killed or a life-altering injury.''
AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley in San Francisco and Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.