Brandon McCarthy returns to mound

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy served notice Wednesday that he does not plan to spend the rest of spring training obsessing over the past while encased in packing tape and bubble wrap.

Nearly six months after taking a line drive off the head in Oakland, McCarthy made his Cactus League debut for the Diamondbacks against Cincinnati. He struck out four batters in two innings and looked fully recovered from the incident that forced him to undergo emergency brain surgery and jeopardized his baseball career and his life in September.

It was an encouraging start for McCarthy, who signed a two-year, $15.5 million contract with Arizona as a free agent in December and is slotted into the fourth spot in manager Kirk Gibson's rotation behind Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley. Now he hopes questions about the injury will dissipate and he can concentrate on his preparation for the regular season.

"I assume it will become less of a hot issue," McCarthy told reporters at Salt River Fields. "For me, it can't really get more behind me than it is. But I think I'll always be that guy, where it's one of the defining markers for me. I just have to try to pitch well enough to get out of that."

McCarthy suffered an epidural hemorrhage, skull fracture and a brain contusion after taking an Erick Aybar line drive off the head during an A's-Angels game in Oakland. His season came to an abrupt conclusion amid questions about whether he would ever take the mound again. McCarthy's wife, Amanda, was among the skeptics after watching him drift in and out of sleep for a week in the hospital.

"I personally thought baseball was over after last year," she said. "It's awesome to see him out there. It's surreal."

McCarthy admitted to a case of nerves before his first Cactus League appearance, but it had nothing to do with skittishness and everything to do with performing well and checking off all the items on his agenda. He is cultivating a changeup this spring as a complement to his fastball and curve, and was intent on including the pitch in his repertoire against Cincinnati.

"The first outing of the spring is always a really rough one for me because I feel like I'm going to screw something up or forget something in my routine," McCarthy said. "That's what I'm nervous about. It's not the actual pitches or anything. I feel like I'm going to goof up and be on TV. But once you actually start throwing, everything starts to come back."

McCarthy didn't wait long to establish himself, freezing Cincinnati center fielder Billy Hamilton with a called third strike to lead off the game. After Brandon Phillips singled to center, McCarthy got Joey Votto and Ryan Ludwick swinging to end the inning.

Reds right fielder Denis Phipps lofted a triple to center field to begin the second inning and scored on a sacrifice fly, but that was the extent of the damage.

Amanda McCarthy, who watched the game from the wives' section with some friends, was sufficiently nervous that she took a break from her well-documented Twitter obsession to focus on her husband's pitching. Less than an hour after his appearance, Brandon McCarthy addressed reporters' questions at his locker stall with a series of thoughtful, introspective and occasionally humorous replies.

McCarthy said he is not a proponent of protective headgear for pitchers unless someone can come up with an option that's better than those available.

"Until the products are better, it's going to be slow-moving,'' he said. "The stuff that's out there already is no good at all. It seems like it's still a long way away. I don't even care if it's MLB-approved. I just want something that's functionally approved by me."

When it was suggested McCarthy will continue to be remembered for the Aybar line drive if he overcomes the setback and pitches well, he joked about the potential financial benefits that might accrue.

"That's when I can make a ton of money on the motivational-speaker's circuit," McCarthy said. "I'll cash in then. Otherwise, I just want it to be a footnote at best. It'll be something that was scarier for fans or my family than anything else. For me, it was just a bad day and not a great pitch."