DENVER – Rockies pitcher Juan Nicasio underwent neck surgery early Saturday to stabilize a fractured vertebra after being struck in the head by a line drive.
Rockies trainer Keith Dugger said neurosurgeon Dr. Peter Witt inserted two screws into the damaged C-1 vertebra and then sought to stabilize the area by putting a small metal plate on the back of Nicasio's neck. Nicasio was placed in a cervical collar and remains under heavy sedation at Denver Health Medical Center but has control and movement in all his extremities.
He was reported in serious but stable condition and is expected to remain hospitalized into next week.
Dugger did not give a definitive prognosis for the 24-year-old Nicasio, saying there were still many unknowns. However, he said there are also encouraging signs.
"He can move his arms. He can talk. He can sit up with help. He remembers every detail of that game, including that pitch," Dugger said. "He was squeezing my hand so tight in the room today. It's a good sign. I'm optimistic, but we just don't know. We'll know more once we start getting into the therapy, at about the six-week mark."
Team physician Dr. Allen Schreiber added: "He has every reasonable chance to come back and be like he was."
The rookie right-hander was injured in the second inning Friday night on a liner by Washington's Ian Desmond. The ball smashed into the right side of Nicasio's head and bounced back into foul territory.
Nicasio went down and lay on the mound for several minutes as he was treated by Dugger and other members of the training staff. He was moved onto a cart by four medical workers. Teammate Todd Helton and manager Jim Tracy assisted.
Taken to nearby Denver Health, a CT scan revealed the break in the C-1 vertebra, which was put back together with the pins. An MRI also showed some internal bleeding on the right side of his head where the ball struck him.
"It scares you to death to see that happen," Rockies reliever Rex Brothers said. "It hurts your heart a little bit, too, because everybody knows how good of a guy Juan is."
Dugger said the injuries Nicasio suffered are more often associated with an auto accident or perhaps diving into shallow water and hitting a rock.
"We just don't see it that much in football or even in baseball," Dugger said. "I don't think there has ever been a C-1 fracture in a professional baseball player. It doesn't get any scarier than this type of incident for us."
Dugger said that he remains hopeful that Nicasio could be back on the mound by next spring, noting that there was no bruising, bleeding or other damage to the spinal cord.
"Best-case scenario, get him back in spring training and he's throwing for our club," Dugger said.
Nicasio was placed on the 15-day disabled list and the Rockies recalled pitcher Greg Reynolds from their Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs.
In a separate move, Colorado placed outfielder Ryan Spilborghs on the 15-day disabled list with a foot injury and activated Carlos Gonzalez from the DL. Gonzalez had been out for two weeks with a right wrist strain.