MLB must do more to protect pitchers

MLB must protect pitchers like Brandon McCarthy; Giants, Dodgers schedules; Chris Capuano; Marco Scutaro, Angel Pagan

Brandon McCarthy, thank goodness, looks like he’s going to be OK.

The Oakland Athletics pitcher was tweeting on Saturday, sitting up all morning, asking questions of his neurologist, according to A’s trainer Nick Paparesta, who related the news to the team’s beat writers. Paparesta also said that McCarthy could leave critical care soon.

All that amounts to progress, a major relief, except for one thing.

Once McCarthy recovers from surgery for a skull fracture, brain contusion and epidural hemorrhage, most people in baseball will move on from what happened. Pitchers will remain in danger from getting struck in the head by batted balls, and hardly anyone will say a word.

I fear the sport is headed for a tragedy, a pitcher who suffers major brain damage, maybe even loses his life. At that point, baseball will ask, “How do we make sure this never happens again?” But that conversation needs to begin immediately, before it’s too late.

I wrote much the same thing for the Sporting News on Oct. 2, 2000, quoting Commissioner Bud Selig as saying that nothing could be done, and noting that almost everyone in the sport agreed. But in that article, I also quoted Jim Kaat, the broadcaster and former major-league pitcher.

“One of these days, we could have a fatal situation,” Kaat said.

Nearly 12 years have passed, and thankfully no such thing has occurred. But after that article appeared, longtime major-league executive Roland Hemond told me that I was on the right track, to keep pressing the issue. After McCarthy was struck by Erick Aybar’s line drive, Hemond’s words were ringing in my ears.

There is no easy answer here. There may not be an answer at all. Baseball is not about to use protective screens in front of the mound. It’s difficult to imagine pitchers wearing protective headgear.

Then again, catchers didn’t always wear masks, and neither did hockey goaltenders. Isn’t it time that baseball at least started a discussion?

“Any time it comes to individual safety, the question needs to be asked,” Athletics general manager Billy Beane told me Saturday. “It needs to be constantly asked, whether it involves major-league players or kids.”

One tragedy would be too many.

And with Brandon McCarthy, baseball came too close again.

And now, we proceed with our usually scheduled column, bonus notes from MLB on FOX’s coverage of Saturday’s game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants


THE GIANTS’ BIG EDGE


I’m not usually a big believer in assessing strength of schedules. If a team is playing poorly, it’s playing poorly. The quality of opponent doesn’t matter.

That said, the disparity in schedules between the Dodgers and Giants the rest of the season is too difficult to ignore.

The Giants’ schedule is much easier, which is why the Dodgers desperately needed to win Saturday and desperately need to win Sunday to remain viable in the NL West race.

The Dodgers, after this series, will visit Arizona for two games, then play 10 games that could be pivotal not just for their chances in the division, but also in the wild-card standings.

First, the Dodgers will host four games against St. Louis, the team they trail by a half-game for the second wild card. Then they hit the road for three games in Washington and three in Cincinnati. After concluding with those two first-place clubs, they will fly back west for three games in San Diego.

In all, the Dodgers will have 13 games left against teams that currently would qualify for the postseason. The Giants will have zero such games — and every one of their remaining series is against an NL West club.

You never know how these things will work out — the Boston Red Sox went 2-5 against the Baltimore Orioles, a supposed patsy, in the final 10 days of last season. But the Giants will face lesser competition with easier travel. That’s an edge.


CAPUANO TURNS IT AROUND


Chris Capuano’s season was starting to look awfully familiar. He was 5-5 with a 5.02 ERA after June 28 with the New York Mets last season. And he entered Saturday’s game 2-7 with a 5.21 ERA for the Dodgers since July 3.

Things started badly for Capuano against the Giants — he allowed three straight one-out hits in the first inning, falling behind, 1-0. But he then retired 15 of his next 17 hitters before giving up another run in the seventh after a leadoff double by Buster Posey.

The Dodgers rallied from their 2-1 deficit with runs in the eighth and ninth, leaving Capuano as one of their many heroes. Not bad for a guy who has undergone two Tommy John surgeries, the second before the start of the 2008 season.

Capuano, 34, said the most difficult moment of his recovery was when he was 11-12 months removed from his second surgery, knowing he was supposed to be nearing his return.

He would try to face live hitters, but his elbow would swell up, causing him significant pain. He eventually went back to Dr. James Andrews, who performed a series of tests and told him that everything checked out normal. Andrews gave him a cortisone shot, the inflammation went down and Capuano was on his way.


PAGAN ON FIRE


Center fielder Angel Pagan has played a significant role in the Giants’ recent success, producing a .389 on-base percentage and .924 OPS since returning to the leadoff spot on Aug. 3.

Pagan said that he felt an added responsibility batting first — “for us to go, I have to go.” He also said that he felt like he had to turn it up a notch, make things happen after Melky Cabrera received a 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug program on Aug. 15.

Oddly enough, Pagan said that hitting leadoff also relaxes him, forcing him to simplify things. In any case, as I noted in my Full Count video, his offensive numbers are remarkably similar to those of another potential free agent, Atlanta Braves center fielder Michael Bourn.

Pagan: .285/.337/.429, 8 HRs, 43 RBIs, 24/31 SBs.

Bourn: .282/.353/.405, 9 HRs, 55 RBIs, 38/49 SBs


FOR SCUTARO, A NEW EXPERIENCE


Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro, 36, is an 11-year veteran who is playing for his sixth team. Yet, his trade from the Rockies to the Giants on July 27 marked the first time he was moved in the middle of a season.

Scutaro described the experience as jarring — he was informed of the deal after a night game in Colorado, and the Giants wanted to play him third base in place of the injured Pablo Sandoval in a 1 p.m. game in San Francisco the next day.

He texted his wife, Marines, who was waiting in the family area, and told her that he had to pack quickly. The Giants returned to Colorado the following week, and after that Marines and their three children — ages 10, 6 and 1 — returned to the family’s home in Miami.

Scutaro hasn’t seen them in more than a month.

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