Chapman has surgery after hit in the face
Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman had surgery on Thursday night to repair a broken bone above his left eye, one day after being hit in the face by a line drive during a spring training game.
The team said Chapman had a titanium plate inserted to stabilise the fracture. The 2½-hour procedure was performed by Dr. Ed Joganic at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix. The left-hander, whose fastball has been clocked at 105mph, is expected to remain hospitalised for another day or so.
Team doctor Timothy Kremchek said Chapman, who was no other injuries, could begin working out and throwing in 10 to 14 days and could pitch in game conditions in four to six weeks.
The doctor called Chapman "a very lucky guy."
Earlier on Thursday, Kremchek said a metal plate would be inserted in the bone above Chapman's left eyebrow, with perhaps a bone graft as well, and will remain there permanently. Chapman has a mild concussion but no other brain injuries or injuries to his eye, Kremchek said.
"He's feeling better and he has some pain management. We're optimistic that he is going to be on the mend," Reds manager Bryan Price said after meeting with players on Thursday morning at the team's spring training facility. "Obviously, we'll stay in touch. We will make sure we follow the process as we continue to get familiar with the injury itself. We will let him know how much support he has and that we care about him. Hopefully, we will see him here very soon."
Catcher Brayan Pena, a fellow Cuban and Chapman's close friend, was one of several Reds players who visited the injured pitcher Wednesday night, hours after Chapman was struck by a line drive off the bat of the Royals' Salvador Perez, and spoke with him on the phone on Thursday morning.
"He was talking to me and we joked a lot," Pena said. "He just wanted to make sure for me to tell everybody that he appreciate so much the fans' prayers, especially our teammates, our coaching staff, everybody around, how much support and how much love he received and got from all of us."
Pena said Chapman was very happy when they spoke, "talking and joking."
"He was talking a lot about some Cuban jokes and that's good because that means his memory is still working pretty good," Pena said.
The frightening incident, widely available on video via the Internet, occurred in the sixth inning of Wednesday's game at Kansas City's spring training facility in Surprise, when Perez lined Chapman's 99 mph fastball into the pitcher's face. Chapman was knocked backward to the ground, then rolled over, kicking in pain.
Pena rushed to the mound.
"Honestly, when I saw it I wanted to cry," Pena said. "That was my first feeling because it was very scary. It was very scary because I saw the line drive going straight for his face, and then I saw him bleeding and kicking and moving around the way he was."
Pena said Chapman "wasn't even talking. He was just like moaning and making sounds and then, when I got there, I panicked because I didn't know what else to do. Then the medical staff guys got there, and those guys were great."
Chapman was taken off the field on a stretcher as the crowd fell into an eerie silence and the game was called off.
The pitcher was taken to a nearby hospital, then transferred to Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix. Kremchek said he expected Chapman to remain hospitalised for a couple of days, perhaps being released on Saturday.
The ball hit Chapman in one of the most protected areas of the skull, the doctor said.
"If you get hit in the side of the head, that could be disastrous," he said. "Where Aroldis got hit, you don't want to say he got hit in a good spot because he's undergoing surgery, but it could have been a lot worse, a lot more injuries, a lot more permanent. He's very lucky."
The 26-year-old Chapman has a fastball that regularly tops 100 mph. The two-time All-Star defected from Cuba in 2009 and made the Reds in 2010. He had 38 saves each of the past two seasons, with 122 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings in 2012 and 112 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings in 2013.
Price, a former pitcher, said pitchers are in a dangerous situation, "regardless of how hard you throw."
"It's hard to defend yourself from 53, 54 feet," the manager said. "And everyone finishes their pitches differently. Everyone is not in a perfect fielding position and even if you are there is no guarantee that you can protect yourself when a ball's hit that hard."
Major League Baseball approved protective caps for pitchers this winter following several terrifying scenes similar to this one in the past few years. The hats were available for testing during spring training on a voluntary basis.
"It's horrific (what happened to Chapman), and it just puts an exclamation point on the fact that pitchers need more protection," Bruce Foster, CEO of 4Licensing Corp, told ESPN.
Foster's company makes the isoBlox padded cap for pitchers in conjunction with official capmaker New Era. The cap met Major League Baseball's approval in January.
"I'm not sure our product would have helped, because of where he was hit, but surely the violence of these hits is tremendous," Foster said Thursday.
Foster says that based on some pitchers saying that the padded caps don't yet meet their standards in terms of appearance or comfort, his company is modifying them.
"I would hope that in the first two to three weeks of the upcoming season, all the players will have seen a cap, and be able to place custom orders for them," he said.
Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria, meanwhile, empathized with Chapman Thursday, related to his own surgery to fix a facial bone after being hit by a line drive. Renteria missed a season as a coach of the San Diego Padres after getting hit in the jaw by a liner during batting practice in 2011.
"I understand the feelings he's going through right now," Renteria said Thursday. "I hope he's doing well and recovers and is back on the hill as soon as he can."
Pena said Chapman particularly wanted to thank the Royals for their support and offer assurance to Perez that it is just something that happens in baseball and was not his fault.
Pena said he also felt some responsibility.
"I kind of blame myself a little bit because I could have called slider or I should have called changeup," Pena said. "That's your thought process. Everything goes through your mind and you're looking for answers. ... You kind of put yourself in that guilt feeling."
But Chapman, Pena said, told him "'You know, it's not your fault. I should have thrown slower.' I'm the one feeling very bad about it and he's the one that's cheering me up. He's the one in the hospital."
This article first appeared on ESPN.com