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Hit by liner, Happ says 'I feel really fortunate'

Thursday - 5/9/2013, 3:56pm  ET

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher J.A. Happ reacts after being hit in the head with a line drive off the bat of Tampa Bay Rays' Desmond Jennings during the second inning of a baseball game Tuesday, May 7, 2013, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writers

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- J.A. Happ isn't sure how he'll react when gets on a mound again. One thing he does know is that he's going to try to forget what happened Tuesday night.

Toronto's 30-year-old left-hander returned to Tropicana Field on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after he was struck on the head by a line drive that sent him to a hospital for an overnight stay.

Happ expects to make a full recovery from a skull fracture behind the left ear that doctors believe will heal on its own, adding he doesn't anticipate having any fear of returning to work.

"I think you've just got to get back out there and try to forget about it," he said. "I won't know until I'm out there, but I don't anticipate it being a problem."

He's not sure when he'll get the opportunity.

The pitcher sprained his right knee when he dropped to the ground Tuesday night, and that could affect how soon he'll be ready to pitch again.

Happ realizes his injuries could have been worse.

"I feel really fortunate," he said after limping into the auxiliary clubhouse for a news conference and climbing a couple steps to sit behind a microphone.

"It looks like I moved just a little bit. I don't remember doing that, but it looks like it was just enough to where it must have caught me in a better spot, because I think it could have got me head on," he said. "I've got some stitches and there's a fracture in the skull, I suppose, behind my ear, but it's not serious or threatening. We'll let those heal."

Happ, who was put on the 15-day disabled list, had a brief conversation with Tampa Bay's Desmond Jennings, who hit the line drive that caught him squarely on the left side of the head. Happ shook hands with several teammates outside the Blue Jays clubhouse while assuring each one: "I'm fine."

"He just wished me the best and hoped for a quick recovery," Happ said. "Obviously, something like that is never intentional. I let him know that I knew that and I appreciated him coming over. It's a scary thing, I'm sure on his end, too."

When Jennings arrived at the ball park he was relieved to learn from one of the Rays' trainers that Happ appeared to be OK.

"That enabled me to breathe a little bit," Jennings said. "But you still don't know until you talk to him, until you see him face to face."

Happ remembers releasing the ball, as well as teammates talking to him while he received medical attention on the field.

"I don't remember seeing it," he said. "Just immediate loud ringing in my ear. Just pressure on my ear, and I was on the ground. That was kind of it. It took me a few seconds to kind of figure out what was going on, but I do remember them being there ... the coaches and Gibby (manager John Gibbons) and obviously the trainers. I was coherent and talking pretty quickly."

He also called his mother while an ambulance was transporting him to nearby Bayfront Medical Center.

"They were holding the phone up to my ear for me. ... She was definitely relieved, glad to hear my voice," Happ said.

The hit, still being replayed on TV a day later, left some of his fellow players unsettled.

"I felt horrible yesterday. I played with Happ last year for a little bit," Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva said. "There's a lot of talk out there about the gear and protective stuff. Hopefully, they'll come out with something that won't affect us pitching out there, but it's still such a fast game. What happens if the ball comes directly at your face? There's nothing you can do. You can't pitch with a mask on. It just comes down to the draw of the luck I guess."

Major League Baseball, meantime, is trying to determine the best way to protect pitchers from similar injuries.

The league's senior vice president, Dan Halem, said a half-dozen companies were designing headgear for pitchers but no product so far was sufficiently protective and comfortable.

"If it doesn't absorb enough impact, then it may be ineffective," he said.

Dr. Gary Green, MLB's medical director, said the Head Injury Criterion (HIC) scale is being used to evaluate products and that a cap liner likely would have to be 8 ounces or lighter.

"We've found some things that are very lightweight, but they're not very protective, and then other things that might be protective but they are too heavy and don't meet the other specifications," he said.

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