The effects of taking several foul tips off his face mask are still lingering for Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said before Tuesday’s game against the Royals.
“He came in today and says he’s feeling pretty decent,” Gardenhire said but later added that Mauer will not be ready to return the lineup any time soon.
“He’s not ready anyway right now. We just have to wait and see; I don’t have a timetable. They got to tell me when to play him. I will discuss it with him once we get the go-go from the doctors. There’s no sense in talking about it until he gets back.”
Gardenhire’s recollection of the events leading up to Mauer’s DL visit is something that is becoming more and more commonplace among catchers.
“He came to my office earlier in the day and we talked about not catching, I was going to play him at first base and he said that would be a good idea. He took one off his helmet and mask -- a couple of them pretty hard,” Gardenhire recanted. “He said his forehead kind of hurts. That was the first time I heard about that. It was good when we were playing first base but once he got out there in batting practice it wasn’t good at all. He was taking ground balls at first and Joe normally doesn’t miss too many ground balls and he was missing just about everything. You could see he was a little loopy.”
What happened to Mauer was innocuous but because of the increasing amount of concussion awareness and preventative measures set up by the league, the frequency of these instances will likely grow, Gardenhire believes.
In 2011 MLB instituted a seven-day disabled list specifically to handle these types of injuries. According to medical research cited by the league, the mild variety of concussion injuries typically clears within five-to-seven days and gives the player the opportunity to be evaluated by the team’s medical staff.
“I don’t think we even knew they had it,” said Gardenhire. “You didn’t know you had a concussion. It wasn’t something that was talked about. It was just ‘man, I don’t feel good today’ but you just played. And it was because there was nobody ever diagnosing it as a concussion. It just wasn’t there. You know, you get knocked out in a game you get back up and finish the game. Nowadays that just doesn’t happen.”
Of course, the player in the most direct line of fire is the team’s catcher. As HardballTalk.com
pointed out last week, in the past month five catchers have been place on the seven-day DL.
“This is a good thing,” Gardenhire acknowledges of the added attention to concussions. “But you are going to see a lot of this from catchers. They get wacked pretty good. That foul ball off the mask, and I know they are trying all kinds of things, there’s no way to stop. I don’t know what kind of mask they can make that is going to stop that neck from getting whipped back like that after you get a 90-plus mile per hour ball tipped right into the mask like that.”
It is hard to foresee MLB making any changes to the way the game operates that would remove the catcher from harm’s way of the foul tip (robot umpires and
catchers?). Equipment will be examined by the sport to see if there are any styles that provided added safety. However the current available stock – heavy or titanium or goalie-style – offer little difference in the level of protection, says Gardenhire, especially when trying to stop the whiplash effect of the neck snapping back upon contact.
“They all got different masks. You got heavy masks, the really light mask, titanium, you know all that stuff. No matter how light his mask was, you still saw him got hit that time and everything shook. It’s gonna happen. There’s no getting away from it."
"It’s just something we are going to have to figure out and deal with it now and go from there. You are going to see that quite a bit, catcher’s getting dinged up.”