PORT CHARLOTTE — When Rays right-hander Alex Cobb saw the images of Reds closer Aroldis Chapman getting hit in the face with a line drive Wednesday night, he was predictably stunned.
Then Cobb got mad. After hearing all about the new protective cap Major League Baseball approved in late January, Cobb is frustrated that as opening day draws near he has yet to see a model.
"It kind of seems like a gimmick to cover their end in case of a serious injury," Cobb, who suffered a concussion after he was hit in the head by a liner June 15, said Thursday. "It feels like a liability issue more than an actual care-for-pitchers issue on their end. … I don't know (if) we're supposed to go online and find it on our own or what, but we haven't seen anything yet."
The padded cap, which is a half-inch thicker on the front and an inch thicker near the temples, probably wouldn't have helped Chapman or Cobb, considering where they got hit; Chapman above the left eye, Cobb on the right ear.
And, turns out, there's a reason Cobb hasn't seen the new model: They aren't completely ready. Bruce Foster, CEO of 4Licensing Corp. (parent company of isoBlox, the cap's creator), told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday that after getting feedback from a number of pitchers this offseason, developers have been working on modifications to improve its comfort, breathability and look. Foster said the new mesh design will be finalized in the next couple of days. Company representatives could start showing them to teams in visits to spring camps by next week or in stadiums at the beginning of the regular season.
The original prototype was also available this spring. MLB said it told clubs in a late January memo that if pitchers wanted their own model, they should go through their equipment manager to request a custom-sized model from isoBlox.
Cobb acknowledges he could have been more proactive in seeking out the hat but wonders why there wasn't more urgency or awareness about the product.
"Home-plate collisions have been addressed Day 1 in spring training, helmets for pitchers haven't even been talked about," Cobb said. "There's so many different changes going on, it might be far down on the list of things to address. Maybe (the Chapman incident) will bring it … to the top."
The Royals' Salvador Perez ripped a 99 mph fastball back at Chapman, who suffered a concussion and had surgery (story, 5C) but is expected to return this season, like Cobb did last fall.
"I can't believe it's already happened again," Cobb said. "I wouldn't say I was naive to the fact it wouldn't happen again. But this quickly is pretty amazing."