ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Toronto Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ remembers releasing the ball that struck the left side of his head Tuesday night. Then the rest came in flashes: loud ringing in his left ear, pressure, an awareness that he was on the ground with a serious injury.
Happ, a left-hander, spoke for the first time Wednesday evening at Tropicana Field since he was released from a St. Petersburg hospital at about noon Wednesday. He received treatment for a head contusion and a cut left ear at Bayfront Medical Center, located about a mile from the stadium, following an incident where a line drive off the bat of Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings hit him in the second inning of an eventual 6-4 Toronto victory.
Earlier Wednesday, before the Rays and Blue Jays played the third game of a four-game series, Toronto placed Happ on the 15-day disabled list and promoted right-hander Edgar Gonzalez from Triple-A Buffalo.
“I feel very fortunate,” Happ said. “The whole baseball community has been unbelievable. The messages I’m receiving, the things people are saying and all the prayers. I really think that helped.”
Happ said he received stitches and had a fracture in his skull behind the affected ear. He said the injuries aren’t threatening — he didn’t sustain a concussion — but he will continue to see a doctor about a “tweaked” right knee that was injured during his fall. Happ said has hasn’t been cleared to fly and that he could remain in the region after the series ends Thursday until he receives permission to travel.
“I’m not sure I’m completely in the clear, but it looks from everything — the CT scan of the brain and the neck and the spine and the skull — it looks pretty good,” Happ said. “I don’t think there’s a ton of concern. Obviously, if the symptoms change, they will let me know.”
Happ said he was coherent throughout the event, despite it taking him “a few seconds to figure out what was going on.” He credited paramedics and Toronto trainers for their help. He said he had seen a replay of the line drive that ended his night, and despite the somber tone that resulted from it, he found some humor when revisiting the play.
“I thought I made a decent pitch,” Happ said to a few laughs.
The address brought some clarity to the stunning event. Happ, who began Tuesday with a 2-2 record and a 4.91 ERA after six starts, was immobilized and removed from the field on a stretcher after the incident. Medical staff attended to Happ on the field, and players from both teams watched from the top step of their respective dugouts in silence.
Happ waved to the crowd as he was taken away from the mound. He was transported via ambulance to Bayfront Medical Center, where he stayed until he was released. Jennings, who ended up with a triple on the play after the ball trickled into right field, appeared concerned, as did other players and coaches from both teams. The game was delayed 11 minutes because of the incident, and right-hander Brad Lincoln came in as relief.
Happ said he and Jennings spoke after the pitcher was released from the hospital. Their conversation included Jennings wishing him a quick recovery.
“Something like that, it’s never intentional,” Happ said. “I let him know that I knew that and that I appreciated him coming over.”
The positive news started Wednesday morning. Then, Happ released a statement saying he was “in good spirits” and looked forward to returning.
“I definitely appreciate the support of the baseball community,” Happ said in the statement. “It’s been overwhelming, the messages and kind words I’ve been getting. I just want to thank everyone for that. And I look forward to getting back out there soon.”
Also Wednesday morning, the Blue Jays had announced that they expected Happ to be discharged from Bayfront Medical Center later in the day after further testing. He was taped walking out of the facility on crutches, with a bandage around his head. He entered a green hotel shuttle vehicle and was driven away.
A hospital spokeswoman, Emily Nipps, told FOX Sports Florida “he shouldn’t be back” after leaving.
“To see him crutching around the hotel and alert, my wife and I just prayed for him last night,” Blue Jays right-hander R.A. Dickey said. “It’s just so heart-warming to see him walking around.”
Happ, a seven-year veteran signed by the Blue Jays to a two-year, $8.9 million extension in March, has a career 4.23 ERA and 524 strikeouts in 623 innings. His stall in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse remained unchanged in the hours before the game Wednesday, with his glove tucked on a shelf in the top-right corner of his stall. Two blue caps hung on hooks nearby.
“It doesn’t happen often,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Am I surprised? I don’t know. It’s a pretty unlucky shot for a ball to be hit that hard at that distance to hit you right there.”