ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Two scary incidents on the same mound connect them. Healing has happened, and both have returned. But they plan to remain close, each sympathetic to the challenges the other faced to come back.
Toronto Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ and Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Alex Cobb spoke Sunday at Tropicana Field about their connection. Happ, 30, sustained a skull fracture behind his left ear and a right knee sprain when a line drive off the bat of the Rays’ Desmond Jennings struck him May 7.
Meanwhile, Cobb, 25, sustained a mild concussion when a line drive off the bat of the Kansas City Royals’ Eric Hosmer struck him on the right ear June 15.
Happ has made three starts since returning from his injuries, including pitching 5 1/3 innings in a victory over the Rays on Saturday. Cobb returned Thursday and pitched five innings in a victory over the Seattle Mariners at Tropicana Field.
Both shared their bond for a few moments before the Rays and Blue Jays closed their three-game series. Here are responses from the question-and-answer session.
How good was it to talk to each other?
Happ: “It’s just nice to see that we’re both back at it, back out here. We were able to touch base a couple of weeks ago and see how our progress was going. It’s just good to see that things are back to normal.”
Cobb: “It’s nice. Not too many people know what you’ve gone through on a personal level. To know his battles, although they were different, they were almost more severe and more troublesome in some cases with his knee. It’s really nice to see him back on a big-league field and pitching well, too.”
How does the support help you?
Cobb: “I don’t think we’ve had to lean on each other too much. Fortunately enough, we both have a lot of people in our lives who have helped us through that. It’s more of a peace of mind to see him back on the mound, especially on the mound that he was hit on against our team. Obviously, he’s doing really well with everything.”
Happ: “I actually saw the play when it happened to Alex, and it was just a surreal thing. Just to see (him) and be able to catch up and see that the healing has taken place, that’s the biggest thing. Definitely, it’s scary with some of the issues that he had to deal with that I didn’t. He had a little bit more to overcome in that sense.”
Has your opinion on head protection for pitchers changed?
Cobb: “No, it hasn’t. J.A. Happ got hit on this mound, the next day we were asked hundreds of questions about headgear. I’m sure guys around the league after I was hit had to do the same thing. When it did happen to him, I thought that there should be an option for pitchers to have something. Whether that pitcher wants to pitch with headgear or not is up to him. I definitely think there should be an option. I haven’t heard too much, but I know that it is moving in the right direction. Hopefully, there will be an option by next year. I would explore (wearing headgear). I would explore it. I definitely would. If it affected my pitching to the point where I’m not going to be successful on the mound, no. But absolutely if it’s something I can work around, I would love to have something out there.”
Happ: “I agree pretty much with what Alex said. It would be crazy not to look into it if it was available. I think function is the big issue. … It would almost have to be a helmet situation. If it was functional and comfortable and didn’t hinder the performance at all, then absolutely.”
Will this chapter ever be closed for you?
Happ: “I think the game is so fast, and it seems like it’s only getting faster with the athleticism speed and power with the guys playing. The danger is there, but it’s something that’s sort of an inherent risk that everybody takes going out to play. I don’t know if there’s going to be an answer. I think that’s what people will wait and see. But hopefully, there will be at least some options.”
How well did you know each other beforehand? Have you become friends?
Cobb: “I didn’t know him at all. I had seen him pitch a few times. I was kind of new in the league. He has been around awhile. We shared stories when it first happened. I wound up losing his number and had gotten it back since. We’ll probably keep in touch and shoot some texts back and forth and make sure everybody is doing good. It’s definitely a bond that most people won’t have with another person.”
Happ: “I would say that we’re going to be linked together with this possibly forever. I think the key thing is we were both able to come back, and we’re OK. Yeah, I think it’s something that we’ll definitely be staying in touch with.”