Thursday, April 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Despite fracture, Blue Jays' J.A. Happ feels blessed

ST. PETERSBURG — Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ was strapped to a stretcher in an ambulance, on his way to Bayfront Medical Center on Tuesday night, when a phone was placed over his ear.

The scary sight of Happ, 30, getting struck in the head with a line drive in the second inning against the Rays had many fearing the worst. But Happ, other than the obvious pain and loud ringing in his left ear, was conscious and coherent and wanted to let his mother, Sue, know he was okay.

"She was definitely relieved," Happ said.

Wednesday afternoon, Happ walked out of the hospital, albeit on crutches, and rejoined his teammates at Tropicana Field, saying he felt extremely lucky and blessed to not have any serious issues.

He has a few stitches on his lacerated left ear, and a minor skull fracture just above it, but CT scans on his brain, neck and spine were negative. His biggest worry is a right knee injury he suffered falling to the mound, which was later diagnosed as a sprain. Doctors said no surgery would be required.

"I feel very fortunate," Happ said. "The whole baseball community has been unbelievable with the messages I'm receiving and things people are saying and all the prayers. I really think that helps."

Happ wants to pitch again as soon as possible, though he'll have to wait after being placed on the 15-day disabled list with a head contusion.

For those who saw, and heard, Happ get hit by Desmond Jennings' liner, which caromed 200 feet into the rightfield Rays bullpen, it was "heartwarming" to see the left-hander in good spirits, Jays ace R.A. Dickey said.

"It could have been really bad," Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He got very lucky."

Jennings, in his first public comments, said it was scary seeing Happ on the ground, and he thought about it the rest of the game, a 6-4 Toronto victory. Jennings said he could "breathe a bit" after hearing Wednesday morning that Happ wasn't seriously injured.

But it wasn't until the two talked at the Trop on Wednesday afternoon, with Happ looking and sounding normal, that Jennings felt relieved.

"It was tough to see," Jennings said. "You never want to see anything like that happen to anybody."

Happ appreciated Jennings' gesture and well-wishes, noting it was probably "scary for him, too."

Happ said he remembered throwing the ball toward the plate but nothing about the ball leaving Jennings' bat and hitting his head. He said he has seen the replay, drawing laughs in a 10-minute news conference by saying, "I thought I made a decent pitch."

Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia didn't know what to do, wanting to help his fallen teammate but also having to cover home plate. He was encouraged when he heard Happ talking while getting tended to by medical personnel on the mound, but he said it was an uneasy feeling the rest of the game.

"I was sick to my stomach for quite some time after that," Arencibia said. "Even talking with (home plate umpire Marty Foster), he's like, 'Man, I need to get some water because I'm feeling sick to my stomach.' "

Gibbons was one of those who visited Happ in the hospital after the game and said he was shocked when he saw him up and eating. Arencibia traded text messages with Happ at 2 a.m., elated when he got the positive news.

"It's a blessing," Arencibia said. "Thank God."

Happ, who said he has been hit before with a liner (on the shin), hasn't given much thought to what can be done — or worn — to protect himself on the mound. Major League Baseball has worked with a number of companies that are attempting to develop a product, but none has made one that has satisfied its testing criteria.

Happ won't let Tuesday's scary situation stop him from pitching again.

"I think you've just got to get back out there," he said. "And try to forget about it."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]

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