SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — After Brandon McCarthy took a line drive to the head last Sept. 5, his wife, Amanda, thought his career was over. She admitted as much Wednesday at Salt River Fields. That thought, though, never crossed McCarthy’s mind, and he couldn’t recall if his wife had ever brought it up to him.
“She might have, and I feel like I probably told her to shut up,” McCarthy joked. “It really wasn’t something I was going to hear from anybody else.”
McCarthy returned to the mound Wednesday for the first time since that line drive struck his head, causing an epidural hemorrhage, brain contusion and skull fracture that required emergency surgery.
In his unofficial D-backs debut, McCarthy pitched two innings and gave up a run on three hits and four strikeouts. In the first inning, he struck out Reds hitters Joey Votto, Billy Hamilton and Ryan Ludwick. But the results were not the story Wednesday.
It was just 175 days ago McCarthy was on the mound for the Athletics, facing Angels shortstop Erick Aybar when the comeback line drive knocked him to the ground. He was rushed that night to California Pacific Medical Campus in San Francisco for surgery.
McCarthy spent the next six days in the hospital, getting discharged Sept. 11, and spent more time than usual away from his training regime. That he is back already seems incredible, but as anticipated a return as it was, McCarthy downplays the whole thing.
“I’m glad this one’s out of the way so I don’t have to hear about it anymore,” McCarthy said. “I want it to be a footnote at best. That’s just it. It’s something that happened, remember when, something that was scarier for fans and my family than anyone else.”
Amanda McCarthy wasn’t shy about sharing those feelings Wednesday, saying she was certainly more nervous than her husband as she watched from the seats behind home plate.
“I’m not a very nervous person in general when he pitches, but obviously this was a unique situation,” Amanda McCarthy said. “When that one came back straight and went into center, I thought he was going to hit the deck, because I did. But he looks good, and I know that he knew what he was doing and he wouldn’t get out there if he felt uncomfortable.”
The hit to which she referred was no screaming line drive, rather a single over McCarthy’s head in the first inning, but the sentiment remains the same. Everyone, including team officials, wondered if McCarthy had a mental hurdle to clear in getting back on the mound.
“We watched the first time when he was throwing live, just kind of watching to see if he was flinching or anything,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said after his team lost to the Reds 14-6 on Wednesday. “We never saw any of that.”
The D-backs also felt confident enough that McCarthy was issue-free to sign him to a two-year, $16 million deal this offseason but not before doing their homework. McCarthy had been cleared by concussion specialists in Pittsburgh a month earlier, which was probably later than he would have liked.
McCarthy said Wednesday he wanted to return for the A’s postseason run. His body may not have been ready to pitch again, but his mind was. Many members of the media have tried to coax a story of struggle and perseverance out of McCarthy this spring, but perhaps in another attempt to downplay the ordeal, he insists his comeback is not the amazing feat it might seem.
“I’ve really been trying to focus outside of it, trying to treat this like I gave up a game-winning home run or something,” McCarthy said. “It’s an event that sucked, but I can’t do anything to fix it. … If it’s on the front of your mind then you’re worrying about it, you’re letting it kind of take over.”
McCarthy accepts that he’ll always be remembered for the incident and even makes light of it. The profile picture currently featured on his Twitter page shows him lying on the mound stunned from the hit and a reference to the movie Titanic.
What McCarthy won’t accept is dealing with the incident every time he takes the mound. He says felt no added nervousness or fear Wednesday and didn’t expect to, perhaps because he moved on from the whole thing as quickly as possible.
McCarthy seemed most comfortable after the start talking about pitching. He was happy with his command and rhythm. He felt good about his game face. He’s further along than he expected this early in spring. And he has to be elated to turn the page even further on his injury.
“If I was going to retire, then I was going to retire and I could be scared of the ball, I could do whatever,” McCarthy said. “If I was going to come back and everything was going to be normal then there was no thinking about it, no dwelling on it.
“For me, it can’t get really more behind it than it is.”
Outfielder Gerardo Parra was a late scratch from Wednesday’s game due to what Gibson described as minor arm soreness, which shouldn’t keep him out of the lineup again. Adam Eaton replaced him in the lineup. … Miguel Montero returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing two straight games due to a swollen thumb.