Keeping Your Head in the Game

The sound of a baseball hitting a batting helmet is unmistakable. You could clearly hear that sound from nearly every seat at Chase Field when Diamondbacks third baseman Mark Reynolds was struck in the head by an errant pitch from Washington Nationals reliever Collin Balester.

The pitch was a 95 mile per hour fastball that hit Reynolds helmet just above his eye. He immediately fell to the ground as Diamondbacks coaches and training staff rushed to the field to attend to him.

Mark Reynolds struck in the head by Colin Balester © Fox Sports 2010

The good news was that Reynolds was conscious and left the field under his own power even asking coaches to allow him to continue playing. Obviously that did not happen and Reynolds spent the remainder of the night being checked by doctors before returning to the dugout to watch the remainder of the game.

The next day Reynolds proclaimed himself fit to play and took the field at third base. During the game he went 0-3 with three strikeouts. There are many who would contend Reynolds’ performance at the plate was normal given the slugger’s propensity to strike out but things didn’t look quite right.

Most of these swings looked as though Reynolds had never seen a baseball or bat before in his life. During a pitching change, the position players stood behind the mound. First baseman Adam LaRoche could tell something was not right and called the coaches’ attention to Reynolds. He was removed from the game and additional tests were run.

The thing about head injuries is that we know very little about them. The brain is still a mystery as are the effects of trauma to the head. Reynolds will be given a battery of tests to assess whether there is any damage but honestly no one knows what to expect.

Reynolds was held out of the concluding game of the Nationals series for precautionary purposes and it may be a few days before fans see him back in the Diamondbacks dugout.

The technology that has gone into batting helmets may have saved Reynolds career. The amount of energy absorbed by the helmet was dissipated making the blow less than it should have been. Mark Reynolds was fortunate.

But what about the pitcher Balester? Did the pitch just get away from him or was he aiming for Reynolds? It may have been easier to accept Balester’s story had he not hit Milwaukee Brewers batter Rickey Weeks in the head just recently. It was almost an exact sequence in the Weeks incident.

When a pitcher gets to the major league level, it is assumed he has the control necessary to keep his pitches going where intended. If Balester is truly that wild that he has no control over a ball that goes into a batter’s head then the Nationals should consider sending him down to work on his mechanics before he injures someone worse.

There is a fine line for a pitcher between letting the batter get comfortable in the batter’s box leaning over the plate and being a head hunter hoping to take an opposing player out of the game.

In the former, I understand the need for pitchers to throw inside to gain some respect. If you need to do that, there is absolutely no reason to throw at the batter’s head. Hitting them in the back or below is completely justified. But there is no room in the game for a guy that is purposely throwing at someone’s head.

Hopefully Reynolds will return to the line-up some time during the San Diego Padres series or against the Brewers on the following road trip. As for Balester, someone better be working with him or else there is going to be retaliation and someone is bound to get hurt.

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