The morning after San Francisco Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto became the latest pitcher struck in the head by a line drive, a Major League Baseball official said MLB “would certainly reach out” to Cueto about the availability of a protective “half-cap” that the league and the players’ association have provided this spring for 20 pitchers to try out.
Patrick Houlihan, MLB vice president and deputy general counsel for labor relations, said the new product, which he describes as a hybrid of a cap and a helmet, has generated positive feedback, and some pitchers have asked for slight modifications of the customized models they received. But Houlihan acknowledged to Outside the Lines on Tuesday that it’s not yet clear whether any pitchers will use the headwear, which has a carbon-fiber shell and roughly resembles a sun visor, in a spring training or regular-season game.
“We feel like we’ve had a successful rollout,” Houlihan said. “Any pitcher is free to have the product made specifically for him, and we’ve had some new requests for the product.”
Cueto, who was hit on the right side of the forehead by a Billy Burns liner on the first pitch of Monday night’s game against Oakland, remained in the game and was diagnosed with a contusion. The Giants said Cueto would be monitored for concussion symptoms.
Five MLB pitchers were struck in the head by line drives last year, and four of them were hit in the face, likely below the area any cap would cover. Houlihan said it looked as if the liner that struck Cueto would have hit an area protected by the new half-cap.
Pitchers are entitled to wear any protective headgear they wish, regardless of whether the league and players’ association have tested it, as long as it doesn’t interfere with play or violate licensing agreements. MLB and the union have approved two products to date — the new half-cap they collaborated on with the California-based company Boombang and the isoBLOX padded cap worn the past two seasons by Alex Torres, who is now on the Braves’ minor league roster.
The Astros’ Collin McHugh wears an SST Pro Performance Head Guard, a carbon-fiber partial insert produced by Safer Sports Technologies that has not been submitted for MLB/MLBPA approval. Evan Marshall of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who suffered a fractured skull on a liner in August in a minor league game, is trying out the same insert this spring, according to the manufacturer.
In a story posted on MLB.com last week, Cueto — like numerous pitchers before him — spoke about the importance of how any headwear looks. But he said, “It’s a good idea that MLB is trying to protect the pitchers.
“One of us could get hit and get killed.”