GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Aroldis Chapman is a "very lucky guy," Reds team doctor Tim Kremchek said Thursday.
The Reds closer has no brain injury, no eye injury and no physical reason he can't recover completely and be the same fireballing pitcher he was before he was hit in the face with a line drive Wednesday night.
Under Kremchek's timetable, Chapman could be ready to pitch in mid to late May. He "absolutely" will be able to pitch this season, Kremchek said.
Chapman underwent a two and a half hour operation Thursday afternoon to repair the broken bone above his left eye socket. Kremchek said a titanium plate would be inserted in the bone and remain there permanently. He said Chapman has a broken nose and a very mild concussion.
But Chapman could be out of the hospital by Saturday, Kremchek said.
Kremchek said Chapman could start exercising and throwing on flat ground in a couple of weeks, and throw off a mound in six to eight weeks.
"Right now, he's awake, he's alert and knows what's going on," said Kremchek.
"He's feeling better and he has some pain management. We're optimistic that he is going to be on the mend," Reds manager Bryan Price said after meeting with players Thursday morning at the team's spring training facility.
"Obviously, we'll stay in touch," Price said. "We will make sure we follow the process as we continue to get familiar with the injury itself. We will let him know how much support he has and that we care about him."
Catcher Brayan Pena, a fellow Cuban and Chapman's close friend, was one of several Reds players who visited the injured pitcher Wednesday night and spoke to him on the phone Thursday morning.
"He just wanted to make sure for me to tell everybody that he appreciate so much the fans' prayers, especially our teammates, our coaching staff, everybody," Pena said.
Pena said Chapman was "talking and joking" Thursday.
"He was talking a lot about some Cuban jokes and that's good because that means his memory is still working pretty good," Pena said.
Continue to keep Aroldis in your thoughts and prayers!— Mike Leake (@MikeLeake44) March 20, 2014
That was the best possible news for Chapman and the Reds after the frightening events in the sixth inning Wednesday night, when Royals catcher Salvador Perez smashed a 99-mph fastball back at Chapman, hit him flush in the face, and knocked him backward off his feet.
The ball hit Chapman in one of the most protected areas of the skull, Kremchek said.
"If you get hit in the side of the head, that could be disastrous. Where Aroldis got hit, you don't want to say he got hit in a good spot because he's undergoing surgery, but it could have been a lot worse, a lot more injuries, a lot more permanent. He's very lucky," Kremchek said.
Price said it was "frightening."
"He was able to communicate. He was able to move his hands, his feet, his legs," Price said.
Chapman never lost consciousness, Price said. The manager said he saw blood coming out from above Chapman's eye.
"Honestly when I saw it I wanted to cry," Pena said. "That was my first feeling because it was very scary. It was very scary because I saw the line drive going straight for his face, and then I saw him bleeding and kicking and moving around the way he was."
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Brian Lawlor, a Reds fan who attended the game with his son and shot the photos in the WCPO photo gallery, said the ball hitting Chapman's head made the same cracking sound as a bat hitting a ball.
Reds teammate Jay Bruce heard the sickening sound all the way out in right field.
"It was one of the more frightening and non-fun moments I've been a part of on the baseball field," Bruce said.
Praying for the teammate chapman hate to see that happen chappy is a strong dude I hope my homie is ok— billy hamilton (@b_ham_3) March 20, 2014
Chapman crumpled to the ground, face down and flailing his legs. Medical personnel from both teams rushed onto the field along with Chapman's father, who jumped out of the stands.
Blood could be seen on the mound.
Several players from both teams knelt nearby as Chapman was being treated and the stadium became silent. An ambulance's siren could be heard in background while Chapman was loaded onto a stretcher.
Chapman was taken off the field on a cart and driven to Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center in Sun City, where tests indicated the fractures.
He was transferred to Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center for further testing and observation overnight.
Keep Chapman in your thoughts and Prayers. That was one of the worst I've ever seen. Praying he comes back quick!— JJ Hoover (@JJ_Hoover) March 20, 2014
The Reds and the Royals called the game with Kansas City leading 6 -3.
Chapman had walked four Royals in the inning before being hit.
Price, a former pitcher, said pitchers are in a dangerous situation, "regardless of how hard you throw."
"It's hard to defend yourself from 53, 54 feet," the manager said. "And everyone finishes their pitches differently. Everyone is not in a perfect fielding position and even if you are there is no guarantee that you can protect yourself when a ball's hit that hard."
Pena said he felt some responsibility for calling a fastball.
"I kind of blame myself a little bit because I could have called slider or I should have called changeup," Pena said.
But Pena said Chapman told him, " 'You know, it's not your fault. I should have thrown slower.' "