FORT MYERS — Afterward, when his bloodied right hand was bandaged and he could joke about the barrel of the broken maple bat that came flying at his face and knocked him to the ground, David Price acknowledged the obvious.
“It could have been a lot worse than what it is right now,” the Rays’ prized young left-hander said.
Price, 24, was lucky, escaping Wednesday’s scary situation with only what the team described as an abrasion on his right hand near the base of his thumb – similar to a scraped hand when falling off a bike. Stitches weren’t needed, an X-ray was negative, Price says he won’t even skip a start and the Rays are confident that even if he does miss time, his preparation for the season won’t be affected.
“It was more of a scare, I guess, than anything else,” Price said.
But to Rays manager Joe Maddon, long a crusader about the dangers of maple bats, it was another example of the increasing potential for something worse, perhaps horribly bad, to happen if Major League Baseball doesn’t take swift action.
“The maple bat is turning into the Claymore mine of baseball,” Maddon said, referencing a dangerous wartime weapon. “I don’t like it. If we’re going to wait for somebody to actually get killed or impaled, we’re going to wait way too long. Something needs to be done.”
Boston pitcher Jon Lester, watching from the dugout when Price was hit, had similarly strong words.
“Kind of sucks that baseball hasn’t done a very good job with the maple bats,” he said. “They’re a danger to the game, they’re a danger to all the players and the fans. Hopefully we can eventually do something with those bats.”
MLB has studied the issue and instituted a ban in the minors of some of the maple bats, which tend to shatter more easily. But it has not taken action at the major-league level, which is how Boston’s Adrian Beltre came to the plate Wednesday in the second inning swinging a 34-inch, 32-ounce maple X-Bat.
After zipping through the first inning, Price was startled when Kevin Youkilis’ liner sailed by him to start the second. Price then threw what he considered a good fastball – “Too good of a pitch,” executive vice president Andrew Friedman joked with him later – that broke Beltre’s bat, the barrel and the ball both heading toward the mound. Price remained unclear on exactly what happened, though the swelling and bruise near his thumb were reminders.
“I tried to make a play on the ball, I guess out of the corner of my eye I saw the bat and I just threw my hands up, luckily,” Price said.
“I didn’t really know what hit me. It just kind of knocked me back and I just kind of laid there and then it was like, ‘All right, I guess I’m okay.’ And then I get up, and when I looked at my hand is when it started really bleeding.”
Around the field, the Rays thought the worst, not knowing if he had been hit in the face or if the blood was the result of the bat shard piercing his hand.
“I just saw him down and immediately you think, ‘Oh, no,'” centerfielder B.J. Upton said. “That’s definitely not what we need right now, not with him.”
“That’s the worst I’ve ever seen – usually it goes by the pitcher and not hit him,” shortstop Jason Bartlett said. “I gave up on the play (Beltre got an infield single) as soon as I saw it. Even the umpires out there were saying they have to stop these bats.”
Maddon’s first thought was, “Thank God it’s his right hand.” But later he said he’d feel the same if it was one of his star pitchers hurt by a maple bat or a fan in the stands. “We’ve had enough warnings,” he said. “It’s dangerous. It’s wrong.”
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