DENVER -- Rookie right-hander Juan Nicasio, wearing an immobilizing cervical brace and a ready smile, returned to the Colorado Rockies clubhouse on Monday, his first visit since he was struck in the head by a line drive and had a bone in his neck broken.
"I can't begin to tell you how warm it is in that clubhouse, seeing Juan walking around and engaging with his teammates," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said before the game against the Florida Marlins. "To see him look the way he is right now, obviously, you've got to give him a lot of credit, and you've got to give the doctors and everybody else a lot of credit. I can't believe how much the swelling has dissipated and how good he looks."
Nicasio, 24, fractured the C-1 vertebra on Aug. 5 when a drive off the bat of Washington's Ian Desmond struck him on the right side of the head. He fell to the ground, sprawled on the mound. Team trainers and medical personnel stabilized his head and neck before taking him to Denver Health Medical Center, where within hours he underwent surgery. Doctors inserted two pins into the cracked vertebra to help it heal in one piece and a small metal plate was attached to the back of his neck to provide additional stability.
Nicasio, who was scheduled to address the media Tuesday, maintained movement of his extremities throughout the ordeal. Doctors have expressed optimism that he can make a full recovery, though he is out at least for the rest of this season.
"First thing I told him is, 'I'm so sorry but I'm so happy," Rockies closer Huston Street said. "As a teammate, you want him to get healthy and return to the field as soon as possible. But as a human being, to realize how close he came to his life being dramatically altered, if not paralyzed and potentially not with us, you consider it a blessing to see him, to shake his hand, to hug him."
No timetable for Nicasio's return has been released by the Rockies. Trainer Keith Dugger has said there is no known previous case of a professional baseball player suffering -- or coming back from -- a C-1 vertebra fracture.
However, Dugger said that in a best case scenario, Nicasio could be throwing again during spring training. He's expected to begin physical therapy sessions in about six weeks and he has been buoyed by the recent arrival from the Dominican Republic of his mother. The Rockies helped arrange for her to get to Denver to be with her son to help him over the course of his lengthy rehabilitation.
"Considering what I saw when it happened and to hear how close he was to (something) tragic, it's tough to hear, but it's a blessing that he made it through," Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta said. "And to see him not even a couple weeks later, walking around in the clubhouse. It's kind of concrete evidence, instead of just hearing it, that he's going to be OK. Modern medicine at its best."