Two starts, two wins, two runs allowed and 19 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings. That's what Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Robbie Ray has done since returning from the concussion he suffered July 28 on a line drive that struck him above the left ear.
As far as the eye can see when Ray is on the mound, everything seems the same as it did when the 25-year-old left-hander was earning his first All-Star berth this year.
There is a hidden difference, however. Ray told ESPN's Outside the Lines on Saturday that he now wears a protective cap insert on the side of the head where he was hit.
"I just figured that since it happened before, it's always a possibility," Ray said. "And it's so small, I don't really notice it."
The partial insert is a contoured Safer Sports Technologies Pro Performance head guard that weighs about 1.7 ounces. Because of how pitchers follow through after releasing the ball, those who get hit by liners to the side of the head are nearly always struck on the throwing side. That means right-handers would wear the carbon-fiber composite insert inside the right side of a standard cap and lefties would wear it inside the left side.
The Houston Astros' Collin McHugh, the Los Angeles Angels' Matt Shoemaker and several St. Louis Cardinals pitchers have said that they too use the SST insert. Shoemaker is believed to be the only other major league pitcher to start wearing a protective device for the head this season after being struck. The righty endured a skull fracture and blood clot in his brain in September.
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have not tested or approved the SST product, but pitchers may select any protective headwear they wish, as long as it doesn't interfere with competition or licensing agreements. The only headwear that's mandatory is the official cap.
MLB and the union have developed and offered a hybrid cap-helmet resembling a visor, produced by a company named Boombang, but no pitcher has worn it in a game.
Ray says he'd like to think that if he had worn an SST guard the night he got hit, it would have prevented him from having his head cut open. He says the liner hit him a couple inches above and a couple inches behind the ear in an area where he now wears the insert.
The shot left the bat of the Cardinals' Luke Voit at 108 mph, ricocheted off Ray and was caught in the air by third baseman Daniel Descalso. Ray collapsed to the ground and was soon carted off while he held a bloody towel to his head. He returned to the ballpark later in the game after a visit to the hospital.
Voit, Ray said, is a "very classy guy" for checking on his condition and offering encouragement immediately after the scary moment and since. Ray also said Ender Inciarte of the Atlanta Braves texted him, saying, "You're such a good pitcher that even when guys hit the ball at you, they get out."
The biggest lesson from the whole episode, Ray said, is that his wife and his teammates are right about him. "I learned I'm a pretty hard-headed guy. My skull didn't crack, there was no bleeding inside, and other than the concussion, no ill effects."
In fact, he says, getting hit was not as bad as having staples inserted in his head and then removed after six days.
As for the mental side of returning, Ray, who is now 11-5 with a 2.97 ERA, said, "I accepted what happened. It was part of the game, and it's not a big deal. I know that I go out every five days and am the closest on the field to the hitter other than the catcher."