After the plunk, hitters must perservere
Being hit by a pitch part of the game, and so is overcoming fear which often follows
The scar on Lonnie Chisenhall's right arm tells most of the story.
The Indians third baseman had surgery to repair a fractured right ulna he suffered June 29 when Orioles pitcher Troy Patton missed his spot with a fastball.
It wasn't Chisenhall's first rodeo with a baseball too close for comfort. Last July, a heater from the Blue Jays' Carlos Villanueva grazed off the ear flap of his helmet and struck him in the face.
He was left with a sinus fracture, a bloody nose and a scratch on his cheek. Indians head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff said it looked like he had "gone a couple rounds with Mike Tyson." The baseball had won by unanimous decision.
Batters approach home plate at their own peril. Pitchers can lose command at any moment and hitters can't afford to dig their spikes into the batter's box and anticipate chin music.
"You just don't expect to get hit," said Tribe utility man Brent Lillibridge, whose 2011 campaign was cut short when an errant pitch broke his hand. "Guys are so accurate with throwing baseballs, for the most part, especially at this level, that you just don't have that kind of fear. The fear is not hitting the ball. If you're having fear of getting hit by the baseball, then you're not going to have any success."
There shouldn't be any visions of Adam Sandler's character in "Happy Gilmore," who abandoned common safety sense and, without protection, entered a batting cage spitting out 90-mph fastballs to take a series of heaters to the chest and forehead.
When a batter gets hit, the feeling is real.
"It's weird. It goes numb for a while," said Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. "But the next day or night your muscle will tighten up and spasm and you get that knot that you have to break through."
In April, Indians right fielder Shin-Soo Choo took exception to a fastball to the knee from then-Royals southpaw Jonathan Sanchez, the same pitcher who shattered Choo's left thumb with a heater in June 2011. That plunking, which forced Choo to have surgery, knocked the South Korea native out of action for more than six weeks. It was the third time Choo had been hit in the first two weeks of the season. A benches-clearing altercation ensued.
"I hit him twice and I don't have anything against him," Sanchez said. "But if I'm going to miss, I'm going to miss in -- I'm not going to miss over the plate, and that's what happened both times."
Choo, who was hit in the head in a Minor League game in 2002, said he knew Sanchez didn't mean harm, but he couldn't shake memories of what had happened 10 months earlier.
"Sometimes balls just get away from guys and unfortunately that's a byproduct of what can happen," said Indians utility man Jason Donald, who suffered a broken left hand when hit by a pitch in Spring Training 2011.
The sequence of events left Choo, who wears a helmet with double ear flaps, vulnerable to pitches on the inside portion of the plate. Anything remotely close to his body would send him flailing out of the batter's box.
"I was really afraid of the inside pitch against lefties," said Choo, who contends that he's now more comfortable in the batter's box, even though a fastball up and in last Thursday had him scampering halfway to the Boston dugout.
On Saturday, Red Sox southpaw Franklin Morales struck Choo's right shoulder with a pitch.
"I'm definitely better now than earlier in the season," Choo said. "It's a normal reaction. When the ball is coming toward my face, what am I supposed to do, hit it? No. I have to do something, go down, away or whatever. But earlier in the season, everything that was up bothered me."
Gonzalez doesn't fault Choo for his initial hesitation, especially considering that Choo missed six weeks following last season's thumb surgery. Gonzalez sustained a torn ligament in his right wrist when he was hit by a pitch in 2002.
"If you have some kind of injury that prevents you from being who you are," Gonzalez said, "the next time you step in the box, anything middle in, you're going to flinch. It's normal."
Boston lost rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks for the season in similar fashion last weekend in Cleveland. Tribe reliever Esmil Rogers ran a 96-mph fastball too far inside and it fractured the right wrist of Middlebrooks, who said he "almost felt it crunch."
Rogers planned to apologize to the 23-year-old, though he admitted that the danger of stepping up to the plate is part of the game.
"I don't want to do that, but I can't control it," Rogers said. "My fastball was running a little bit and it hit him. That happens in baseball."
It's unfortunate when a pitch too far inside costs a player substantial time on the field. But is there a part of the body where a hitter would prefer to get hit?
Donald said even on the most padded parts of the body, a hit-by-pitch still stings and leaves a lasting soreness. Choo pointed to his hip, noting that he has "a lot of muscle there." Lillibridge chose his thigh and Gonzalez simply stated that he "would choose not to get hit at all."
"A hit by pitch is a hit by pitch," Choo said. "It hurts, but you can't get mad at the pitcher. Everyone gets hit."