The Colorado Rockies are “very optimistic” Juan Nicasio will pitch again after he underwent surgery early Saturday morning to stabilize a fractured vertebrae suffered after being struck by a line drive in the side of the head, Rockies head athletic trainer Keith Dugger said.
Nicasio, 24, sustained a broken C-1 vertebrae and bleeding to the right side of his face, where Ian Desmond’s line drive Friday night drilled him “right by his temple,” Dugger said. The injuries were never life threatening, and Niscaio was conscious when Dugger rushed to attend to him on the mound Friday night.
Nicasio maintained control of all his extremities, he can talk and he remembers “every detail” of Friday’s game, Dugger said. He could be released from the hospital early next week.
The best-case scenario, Dugger said, is that Nicasio will be pitching with the Rockies at the start of spring training next season. He will be able to walk again, period. But it is also possible Nicasio will never play again.
“There’s a lot of unknown at this point in time,” Dugger said. “We’ll know a lot more in two weeks. … We’ll know when we get into the six-week mark of therapy, when we’re working on range of motion.”
After a cart carried Nicasio off the field Friday night, an ambulance drove him from Coors Field to Denver Health, an area hospital. Nicasio remained conscious on the ride to the hospital and asked for his neck brace to be removed until medical personnel reassured him that he needed to wear it.
At Denver Health, doctors administered a CT scan, which showed the fracture of the C-1 vertebrae, which is responsible for neck rotation. The injury typically occurs in car crashes or when a diver hits his head in shallow water.
Dugger said there was no precedent of a baseball player sustained the injury. It could have happened either when Nicasio jerked his head to avoid the ball, or when he collapsed to the ground and landed headfirst.
After doctors discovered the fracture, they present options to Nicasio, still conscious at the time. The option that would give him the best chance to play baseball again was to perform surgery immediately. Nicasio chose that, with the blessing of neurosurgeons at Denver Health and Rockies team officials.
The surgery involved placing two screws in the back of Nicasio’s neck covered by a plate. Dugger did not anticipate Nicasio needing any more surgery on his neck, but Nicasio will likely require another procedure to treat the bleeding on the right side of his face.