DENVER — When Rockies pitcher Juan Nicasio lay motionless on the mound Friday night, plenty of Nationals could relate to what the young right-hander was going through.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson took a fastball square in the face as a Double-A player. His play didn’t suffer for long, but it took between two and three years for Johnson to stop ducking out of the way of a fastball he saw coming when doing something as simple as walking down the street.
Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann took a line drive to the jaw as a pitcher in college during live BP. He broke his jaw, sat out a month and pitched with his jaw semi-wired shut via braces for much of the rest of the season.
Baseball players accept that what happened Friday night, while terrible and unfortunate, is a part of the game. There isn’t much anyone could have done to prevent what happened, even if that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach.
“It’s just part of the game,” Johnson said. “People think baseball isn’t a very dangerous game. It’s dangerous. That ball is coming at the hitter 100 miles and hour at times and it’s going back even faster than that at the pitcher and other players.”
For one National, though, it was difficult to watch. Four weeks ago, John Lannan took a line drive off his face. Lannan escaped relatively unscathed after some initial bleeding upon impact. CT scans were negative, a hairline fracture in his nose was the worst of it. Lannan didn’t miss a single start and, in fact, won three of his next four starts. For all intents and purposes, he was moving on without any of the mental or physical repercussions that could have easily cropped up after the incident.
But this afternoon at Coors Field, while trying to put the fresh memory of what happened to Nicasio out of his mind, Lannan will have to face the same Rockies lineup that he did that night in Washington. The starting lineups aren’t out yet, but there’s a good chance Ty Wigginton, the man whose line drive hit Lannan, will be in the Rockies’.
Lannan has steeled his mind to get through a lot. It was only just more than a year ago that the Nationals sent the left-hander all the way back to Double-A and told him to rediscover the ability that had made him an integral part of their rotation for the previous two seasons. Lannan did. He came back stronger and is putting together perhaps his finest major league season this year. He’ll have to focus his mind to get through another roadblock today.
Johnson said Saturday he hadn’t discussed the issue with Lannan, hoping that not calling attention to it would help his pitcher go out and execute his job without incident.
“We all deal with it,” Johnson said. “It’s just part of it. You can’t let it affect your focus. If you think about it, it can affect your delivery and your approach at home plate. It’s something you don’t want to think about.”
Rick Ankiel CF
Danny Espinosa 2B
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Michael Morse 1B
Jayson Werth RF
Jonny Gomes LF
Ian Desmond SS
Jesus Flores C
John Lannan P
Eric Young LF
Dexter Fowler CF
Carlos Gonzalez RF
Troy Tulowitzki SS
Ty Wigginton 1B
Chris Nelson 3B
Eliezer Alfonzo C
Mark Ellis 2B
Aaron Cook P