DETROIT – Major League Baseball is looking at ways to protect pitchers from being injured by batted balls such as the one that struck Doug Fister in the head, and says hat liners are a possibility in the minors next year.
The safety issue is on a "fast track," MLB senior vice president Dan Halem said Friday night.
"Hopefully, we can come up with something," he said. "We're making progress."
MLB medical director Dr. Gary Green has been talking to companies about protective headgear for pitchers, Halem said. A report is on the agenda at baseball's winter meetings in December.
A cap liner with Kevlar, the high-impact material used by military, law enforcement and NFL players for body armor, is among the ideas under consideration.
Halem said baseball already was exploring options when Oakland pitcher Brandon McCarthy was hit in the head by a line drive last month, causing a skull fracture and brain contusion.
"After that, it kind of pushed up our timetable," Halem said. "We decided to fast track it."
"We think it's possible for 2013 in the minor leagues," he said.
Fister was the latest pitcher to get hit. Gregor Blanco's second-inning shot caught Fister on the right side of the head and flew about 150 feet, the ball traveling so far that Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson picked it up on one hop.
Fister remained in the game Thursday night and worked into the seventh of a 2-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants. The Tigers said a team trainer pronounced Fister fine on Friday.
Many youth leagues require pitchers to wear helmets. Getting big league pitchers to adjust to something new would certainly take time, plus the approval of the players' union.
"I definitely think it's something worth exploring," Game 1 winner Barry Zito said after the Giants worked out Friday night at Comerica Park. "We've had high-profile examples of those injuries lately, what happened with Brandon and then here in the World Series."
Zito said he'd heard that MLB was looking into potential solutions.
"You don't want it to be too drastic," he said. "Little things can affect a pitcher's delivery."
Giants general manager Brian Sabean said there was merit to the study. Finding the right product would be the key, he said.
"It would depend on how intrusive it is," he said. "Pitchers would want it to be no irritant or agitant. The weight would be important."
When he returned to the A's after his accident, McCarthy said he would be willing to listen to ideas about protective headgar, provided it didn't impact his pitching.
Halem said baseball was in the early steps of getting a protective device on the field. It would require testing and an examination from an independent laboratory to see whether it could withstand the force of a line drive going 100 mph or more.
MLB could implement the safety change in the minors, having made similar moves involving larger batting helmets. Putting it in effect for the majors would require agreement from the players' association.
"We'd have to discuss how we'd roll it out," Halem said.
Baseball mandated batting helmets for big leaguers starting in 1971. Players already in the majors could opt not to wear them, and Boston backup catcher Bob Montgomery played until 1979 without one, instead putting a protective plastic lining inside his cap.
Fox broadcaster Tim McCarver watched the replay of the Fister ball and said he thought baseball might need to "resort to helmets for pitchers."
Philadelphia pitcher Vance Worley heard that remark and tweeted: "Pitchers....wearing helmets....really?"
Last year, Washington shortstop Ian Desmond hit a liner that struck Colorado pitcher Juan Nicasio in the head. Knocked off his feet, Nicasio broke his neck when he fell on the mound.
Desmond also heard McCarver's suggestion.
"Helmets for pitchers??? Really," Desmond tweeted.