In wake of Stanton injury, Matheny talks inside pitches then and -

In wake of Stanton injury, Matheny talks inside pitches then and now

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By John Bailey By John Bailey

ST. LOUIS — In the wake of Giancarlo Stanton’s gruesome injury Thursday night, Mike Matheny talked inside fastballs, getting hit high and preventative helmets Friday. 

For those that missed it, Stanton took a fastball to the left side of his face in the fifth inning of Miami’s game with Milwaukee. He collapsed immediately and was stretchered off the field, reportedly sustaining facial fractures and dental damage. 

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The incident left many around the league shaken, and the Cardinal manager shared his views before the opening contest with Colorado.

“I don’t care if it’s our guy throwing it or the other guy throwing it, you don’t want to see anything heading up in that direction. That’s why we’re always preaching if we come in, and we need to gain a little territory, not up in here,” he said, gesturing toward his head. “Guys make mistakes and balls sail, we’ve all seen it. But that’s a scary place to go.”

Matheny is intimately aware of how frightening and painful Stanton’s episode was. On May 26, 1998, the then-Brewers catcher took a fastball from closer Rich Loiselle to his jaw. 

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Matheny was the tying run on a one-run game, and said he was trying to stay in on the pitch to make sure it didn’t break back over the plate. Instead he lost it, and the next thing he knew he was staggered. 

“The part that got me was I was just losing so much blood I didn’t want to pass out right on the field,” he said, offering a wry smile. “I didn’t think that would look good.”

He would leave the game under his own power, but he suffered lasting damage to many of the teeth on the right side of his jaw. 

“Eventually all the ones on that side have either been worked on or replaced,” he said, mentioning he still is dealing with dental problems. 

Luckily for Matheny, he did not suffer a fracture in the incident. In fact, he ended up returning to the lineup the next night. 

“I didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on it. The next night I was able to jump in and swing,” he said. “That was probably one of the healthiest things that could happen for me.”

Stanton’s injury was more serious, almost certainly sidelining him for the remainder of the season. When asked if the modern game is seeing hitters lean in or crowd the plate more, Matheny said he feels the decision of signal callers is a chief contributor.

“What I am seeing more of here recently is catchers setting up and in. We didn’t do that. That was one of those things- because your pitcher better be really, really good at making pitches up and in or else you’re going to risk somebody really getting hurt,” he said. 

The Cardinals have two players in Jon Jay and Matt Holliday who unenviably lead the majors in wearing pitches. Jay’s 19 are tops across both leagues, and Holliday’s 17 are tied with Starling Marte at second. Neither batter crowds the zone particularly tight, so it’s curious how both have drawn so much contact compared to their peers. 

“Anybody who watches how these guys have been hit, they’re not necessarily leaning into pitches and trying to get hit, which people have done in the past,” Matheny said, noting many of Jay’s HBPs have come on the lower half of his body. 

“The balls on Holliday, guys are just getting careless going up and in on him and that’s not a good place to go,” he said, visibly annoyed with the beating his slugger has taken. “Those ones tend to get our attention.”

Upon returning from being hit in the face, Matheny decided not to wear facial protection while batting, though he said he considered it. A few players wear modified helmets while batting, most notably Atlanta’s Jason Heyward. After getting hit in the face by a pitch, the outfielder wears an extension on his helmet to cover the jaw he broke. With player safety a major talking point across multiple sports, it's logical to wonder if standardizing that sort of helmet would be something baseball players would move toward. 

“I think it’s going to be individual preference. Some guys just wouldn’t want to go there,” Matheny said, noting his former teammate Kevin Seitzer opted for the protective helmet after he was hit. “It’ll be interesting to see if Stanton decides to go in that direction.”

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