It doesn’t matter how fast your reactions are, it’s almost impossible for a pitcher to get out of the way of a line drive coming straight at his head. Unfortunately, millions of baseball fans witnessed this on Aug. 5 when rookie Juan Nicasio of the Colorado Rockies was nailed right in the head by a line drive from Ian Desmond of the Washington Nationals at Coors Field.

The right-handed Nicasio was knocked to the ground instantly and underwent surgery that was needed to reattach some fragments of his C-1 vertebrae in the neck. He was listed in stable but serious condition after the operation, but was sitting up and talking.

The 24-year-old was hit in the second inning and appeared to be unconscious when he fell to the mound face-first. Keith Dugger, the Rockies head trainer, said he’s not sure if Nicosia fractured his neck when he was hit by the ball or when he hit the mound with his head. He also said a C-1 vertebrae injury is very rare in baseball.

Nicasio underwent surgery at University of Colorado Hospital’s Spine Center. Doctors placed two screws into his vertebrae as well as a small plate in the back of his head to stabilize him. Fortunately, there wasn’t any spinal damage, but the plate will have to remain in his head permanently.

Nobody is able to predict when he’ll be able to return to the team because of the rarity of the injury in baseball. It was reported that Nicasio suffered a fracture to the side of his head. However, that won’t be fixed by surgery. Doctors will be monitoring it with scans to keep an eye out for dangerous bleeding or swelling.

Dugger said Nicasio might be able to go home from the hospital in about a week and he’s hoping that he’ll be ready for spring training next year. He added that the pitcher was talking to him when he reached the mound and knew what had happened. Nicasio was told about his options for treatment and decided it was best to have surgery so he could get back to pitching as soon as possible.

After the incident, rumors quickly spread about his condition, so a couple of Nicasio’s teammates contacted his parents in the Dominican Republic to make sure they were aware of the situation and that their son was stable.

Nicasio has a 4-4 record with the Rockies along with an ERA of 4.14. The club called him up in May from Tulsa of Double A ball. Jim Tracy, Colorado’s manager, said Nicasio has the potential to be a key pitcher in the organization and it was tough to see him get hit, especially after witnessing Kazuhisa Ishii get hit in the head by a line drive in 2002 and suffering a concussion and small fracture to his skull. Fortunately, Ishii came back the next season and managed to pitch for a few more years.

Tracy said that his and everybody else’s prayers are with Nicasio and they wish him a speedy recovery. Right-hander Greg Reynolds has been called up from Colorado Springs of Triple A to take Nicasio’s spot on the team’s 25-man roster.


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