John Lannan will start Sunday for the Nationals against the Rockies, an assignment that provides a harrowing coincidence. On July 8, facing the Rockies at Nationals Park, a line drive off the bat of Ty Wigginton hit Lannan in the face. Friday night, Lannan watched from the dugout as Ian Desmond’s liner struck Juan Nicasio in the right side of the head.
Lannan bled from his nose, walked off the field under his own power and made his next scheduled start. Nicasio was carted away from the stadium and taken to a hospital, where doctors performed surgery to stabilize a fractured vertebrae. He may or may not pitch again.
Saturday, Lannan declined to talk with a reporter about the incidents, seemingly out of respect for the severity of Nicasio’s injury. “My situation and his situation are two different things,” Lannan said.
It would be a natural human reaction for Lannan, so soon after his own frightening moment, to be stricken after watching Nicasio’s ordeal. Manager Davey Johnson had not spoken to Lannan about the topic, partly in hopes it would not weigh on his mind.
“We all deal with it,” Johnson said. “It’s just part of it. You can’t let it affect your performance. If you think about it, it can affect your delivery, it can affect the way you move toward home plate. You certainly don’t want to think a whole lot about it.”
Johnson has personal experience with taking a baseball in the face. As a player in Class AA, Johnson was hit by a fastball just beneath his nose. That night, Johnson had his nose reset by a doctor. The next day, Earl Weaver, Johnson’s manager, pinch-hit Johnson in the middle of a game. Still under the influence of pain-killers, Johnson struck out swinging at three pitches.
“I thought I was washed up,” Johnson said. “But the good thing about it was, it got me right back out there.”
Johnson rebounded on the field, but the affect of getting drilled did not recede quickly. Away from the baseball diamond, Johnson would sometimes suddenly visualize a ball coming at his head. He would duck and throw his arm in his face, maybe just walking down the street. The visions happened for two or three years before they stopped.
“We all know,” Johnson said. “It’s just part of the game.”