McCarthy won’t dwell on comeback from head injury

Brandon McCarthy does not wish to be known as that player who
got hit in the head.

At least for now, though, it’s an identity he can’t escape. When
last seen in a major league baseball game last Sept. 5, the
right-hander – then with the Oakland Athletics – was struck in the
head by a vicious line drive.

The results were as frightening as it gets for a pitcher – an
epidural hemorrhage, brain contusion and skull fracture. At one
point, the Athletics called the injuries ”life-threatening.” Two
hours of surgery were required.

Now, cleared to return by the top expert in the field, he has
begun spring training with his new team, the Arizona Diamondbacks,
where he and the team seem much more concerned about his history of
shoulder problems than with the after-effects of that scary
day.

Such events would be expected to create a greater appreciation
of the chance to play a game for a living, or perhaps even
gratitude to just be alive. McCarthy, speaking after Diamondbacks
pitchers and catchers worked out for the first time on Tuesday,
prefers to downplay the event and its aftermath.

To do otherwise, the 29-year-old right-hander said, gives the
injury too much power.

”I don’t know if it’s a non-cliche answer, but my outlook over
everything, it just really hasn’t changed because of it,” he said.
”Doing that just puts more emphasis on what happened and it
reflects on it, which isn’t something I’m interested in
doing.”

He understands the simple truth. Pitchers throw the ball hard
and sometimes it comes back real hard right at them. That’s what
happened with that line drive off the bat of the Los Angeles
Angels’ Erick Aybar.

”It was a one-time event,” he said. ”It had never happened
before. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again. My purpose now is to
just focus on what I can control and then just let the enjoyment of
the game come back that way.”

McCarthy is a smart guy. He knows that when he next faces a
batter, there may be a mental hurdle to clear.

”I have no idea,” he said. ”We’ll all find out next week. It
has to be something, just by the nature of what it was, that there
will be a little bit of just getting over. But it’s not something I
anticipate. It’s not something I’m planning for. It’s just
literally trying to get out there, and we’ll see what happens.

”It’s just something if you sit and reflect on it and make it a
bigger issue than it is, then you allow it to control you, and
that’s not something I’m trying to do.”

Arizona general manager Kevin Towers said that the team did
extensive homework before signing McCarthy to a two-year, $15.5
million contract in December.

First of all, the team knew that McCarthy had been treated, and
subsequently cleared to pitch again, by Dr. Michael Collins of the
University of Pittsburgh, one of the foremost experts on head
trauma.

On top of that, Towers said, Diamondbacks managing partner Ken
Kendrick ”knew one of the top neurologists here in the valley who
spent a great deal of time talking, looking at the test results and
where he (McCarthy) was at after some of his visits to
Pittsburgh.”

As a result, Towers said, McCarthy’s head injury issue ”was
probably the least of our concerns.”

The shoulder history was the big one.

Virtually every year, McCarthy said, he has been sent to the
disabled list with a stress fracture in his right shoulder. It
takes five weeks for him to come back.

It’s a rare injury, he said, except for him.

”I’ve got almost all of them in baseball history,” he said.
”It’s just become my injury. There’s something in that area that
we can’t figure out the exact reasoning for it.”

He’s hoping that proactive treatment from a new training staff
will get him through a year unscathed. The injury hits almost to
the day every season, no matter what changes he makes mechanically,
in training or anything else.

Perhaps the injury should bear his name, a la Tommy John.

”Yeah, maybe the `Mack Crack,” he said.

Then he thought better of it.

”I’m more famous for getting hit in the head already,” he
said.

Having a shoulder injury named after him, too, would be too
much.

He knows it scared more teams away from him than the head injury
did.

”We got cleared by Dr. Collins and you really can’t’ get much
more of an all-clear than that,” McCarthy said. ”I know the
shoulder one, for a lot of teams, that was a bigger concern. When
you’re looking at it, you get a medical file and it takes two CDs,
I think that’s scary for some training staffs.”

The definition of scary was seeing McCarthy felled by that line
drive.

The ball hit him in the right side of his head. Eventually, he
was able to walk off the field. But it wasn’t long before he found
himself hospitalized and in very bad shape.

It all came full circle one day not that many weeks ago when his
concussion symptoms finally vanished.

”The very first day I was cleared in the offseason was actually
the day that I felt back normal,” he said. ”That was a day that
was a legitimate relief, because when you’re going through a
concussion you feel like `Is this ever going to go away?”’

The symptoms ”affect you in a lot of different areas, and then
it was sort of like one day my brain said, `No, we’re good now.’
And then from that day on, I feel like I’ve just completely been my
old self. Nothing’s different. I don’t reflect on anything. Once
that lifted, I was good to go.”

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