Gil LeBreton

March 20, 2014

Tanner Scheppers knows what Aroldis Chapman felt

Rangers pitchers know the dangers and reality of a batted ball.

The siren’s wail along busy Reems Road was hard to ignore Wednesday night.

Gee, we thought. That sounds close.

A few minutes later, someone on Twitter informed us that that ambulance’s siren was, indeed, closer than we ever thought. Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman was on the ground a few blocks away at Surprise Stadium after being struck in the face by a batted ball.

The video is difficult to look at, as they always are when a line drive comes in contact with the head of a pitcher 52 feet or so away.

Tanner Scheppers knows. When he was an underclassman at Fresno State, the Texas Rangers pitcher was struck in the head during an NCAA tournament game against Minnesota. Scheppers was briefly knocked unconscious and had to be carted off on a stretcher.

By Thursday morning, he had seen the video of Chapman, as had most major league clubhouses.

“I did, and I think what happened was very unfortunate and my best wishes go out to him and his family,” Scheppers said.

Unlike Scheppers, Chapman never lost consciousness. The ambulance took the Reds pitcher to the same hospital in Sun City West that we pass every day at spring training. Doctors diagnosed a fracture above his right eye, and surgery was performed Thursday to put a titanium plate in place to help the bone heal.

“Right now, he’s a very lucky guy,” Reds physician Timothy Kremchek said. “He’s awake and alert and knows what’s going on. There are no other brain injuries.

“Hopefully, in a couple of weeks he can start exercising and start throwing, and hopefully he’ll be back in six to eight weeks.”

To a pitcher, the line drive back through the box is the snake in the room that no one really wants to talk about.

As a member of the unfortunate fraternity, Scheppers bravely fielded questions Thursday from media visitors, including me, who winced just asking him about it.

“It makes you think about it, sure,” he said. “It’s just one of those unfortunate, freak things. It doesn’t happen a lot, fortunately. My thoughts right now are mostly to just pray for the guy and hope everything comes out all right.”

Former Rangers pitcher Brandon McCarthy was struck in the head in 2012 and thought he had survived the worst. A scan later revealed that he had suffered an epidural hemorrhage, a brain contusion and a skull fracture.

His injuries prompted baseball to heighten its discussion of ways to protect pitchers. But the prototype protective cap available this spring on a voluntary basis isn’t the answer yet, McCarthy has said. The model he saw was too hot and too tight, and he has no plans to wear it.

But a helmet wouldn’t have helped Aroldis Chapman on Wednesday night. Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez’s line drive struck the pitcher instantly, sending the ball caroming back across the third base line.

Chapman never had a chance.

“Not many guys do,” said Rangers pitcher Joe Saunders. “The guy that feels the worst is the guy that hits it. It’s just one of those freak accidents.”

When asked if he had ever been struck by a line drive, Saunders knocked on his wooden locker.

“No,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to where I haven’t been on either side of that. I’ve seen it on TV, but never in one of the games I’ve been part of.”

For good measure, Saunders rapped on the wooden locker again.

When Scheppers was struck in 2007, college baseball players were still using composite bats, since outlawed.

“Wood bats — it doesn’t matter, I guess,” Scheppers said. “These are strong guys, and they’re hitting the ball back 100 mph.

“It does happen, though. It’s part of the game. You just hope, in Chapman’s case, it all turns out all right.”

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