ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Brandon Jennings stood with his hands on his head, his Tampa Bay Rays teammates also visibly concerned as they watched Toronto’s J.A. Happ receive medical attention for about eight minutes.
Happ was removed from the field on a stretcher in the second inning Tuesday night after being struck on the head by a line drive off the bat of Jennings in the Blue Jays’ 6-4 victory over the Rays.
“I just saw it come off the bat hot, and when it hit him I know it hit him hard,” said Ryan Roberts, who was on deck to bat behind Jennings. “I instantly started praying for him. That’s a situation you never want to see. It’s unfortunate. I hope he recovers and hope he’s back pitching as soon as possible.”
Jennings, who did not speak to the media after the game, hit the ball so hard that after it ricocheted off Happ it went all the way into the bullpen in foul territory halfway down the right-field line for a two-run triple. Happ dropped face down at the front of the mound, holding his head with his glove and bare hand.
The Blue Jays said Happ was taken to Bayfront Medical Center, where he was alert and undergoing tests. Nursing supervisor Natasha Keller told the Associated Press that Happ had been admitted to the hospital and was in stable condition.
Team trainers, paramedics and medical officials rushed to Happ’s aid as Tropicana Field fell into a hush.
Just before he disappeared under the stands on the stretcher, Happ raised his right hand and waved. He received a standing ovation, and the game resumed after an 11-minute delay.
Said Adam Lind, whose home run in the second inning gave the Jays a 1-0 lead: “It took us a few innings to regroup. The energy in the dugout was very sad and we weren’t really in the mood. I think that was obvious, and then we got some hits and got our minds off things that were bad and got our minds pointed in the right direction.”
Happ’s injury was the latest to a pitcher struck by a batted ball during the last few years, and Major League Baseball has discussed ways to protect hurlers on the mound.
“We are actively meeting with a number of companies that are attempting to develop a product, and have reviewed test results for several products,” MLB spokesman Pat Courtney told the AP in an email after Happ was injured Tuesday night. “Some of the products are promising. No company has yet developed a product that has satisfied the testing criteria.”
Oakland right-hander Brandon McCarthy was hit in the head by a line drive last September, causing a skull fracture, an epidural hemorrhage and a brain contusion that required surgery. He was released from the hospital six days later.
Not long after Happ was hit Tuesday night, McCarthy’s wife, Amanda, tweeted: “Thoughts go out to Happ and his family. Such a scary moment.”
Major league general managers discussed the issue during their meetings in November and MLB presented several ideas at baseball’s winter meetings only weeks later.
MLB staff have said a cap liner with Kevlar, the high-impact material used by military, law enforcement and NFL players for body armor, is among the ideas under consideration. The liners, weighing perhaps five ounces or less, would go under a pitcher’s cap and help protect against line drives that often travel over 100 mph.
MLB could implement the safety change in the minor leagues, as it did a few seasons ago with batting helmets, but would require the approval of the players’ union to make big leaguers wear them.
Brad Lincoln replaced Happ, who gave up four runs — all in the second inning — and five hits in 1 1-3 innings.
Lincoln took over with Tampa Bay leading, 4-1. But Cody Rasmus hit a two-run home run off Rays reliever Jake McGee in the seventh inning, and Toronto tied it in the eighth when Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista hit back-to-back doubles off Kyle Farnsworth.
Maicer Izturis homered off Joel Peralta (0-2) in the ninth and Cabrera drove in the Jays’ final run with another double.
Steve Delabar (3-1) threw two scoreless innings before Casey Janssen pitched the ninth for his ninth save.
The Blue Jays have won three in a row for the first time this season, but this victory was overwhelmed by the traumatic moment in the second inning.
Happ began spring training without a spot in Toronto’s projected rotation. He earned a starting role when the Blue Jays left struggling Ricky Romero behind in Florida to work on his mechanics when the season began.
Happ was obtained by Toronto in a trade with Houston last July 20. He was placed on the disabled list Sept. 7 and missed the rest of the season due to a broken right foot.
“You just hope and pray that it’s not as bad as it looks,” said Delabar. “Nobody ever wants to get hit on the mound, especially in the head. You just pray it doesn’t amount to anything.”
NOTES: Rays RF Ben Zobrist rejoined the team after missing two games following the death of his grandmother. … A group of injured Toronto pitchers rehabbing at the team’s complex in nearby Dunedin were at the ballpark. RHP Sergio Santos (right triceps) is scheduled to pitch in extended spring training games Thursday and Saturday, and if things go well he could join Class-A Dunedin next week. RHP Dustin McGowan (right shoulder) is pitching out of the bullpen in extended spring games and could start a rehab assignment next week. RHP Drew Hutchison (right elbow) is about three weeks away from throwing batting practice. RHP Kyle Drabek (right elbow) could be ready to throw batting practice in a week or two.