Safe situation: Pitchers try protective cap

February 21st, 2016

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates closer Mark Melancon and reliever Jared Hughes tested out a new Major League Baseball-approved protective cap during Sunday's Spring Training workout. Both pitchers came away impressed, albeit with a split decision about whether they'll keep wearing it.

Hughes and Melancon sported the "Half Cap," created by a company called Boombang, as they threw in the bullpen and went through pitchers' fielding practice at Pirate City. MLB began asking pitchers in September if they wanted to try out the new model, and 20 big leaguers agreed to test them this spring. The design, comparable to a hard visor that protects a pitcher's temples, earned rave reviews from both pitchers.

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One drawback, arguably, is a style that may take time to gain acceptance if not evolve further. Although this version looks better than previously seen prototypes, the headwear still hasn't gotten a full fashion thumbs up.

If appearance is the only barrier to safety, Hughes is fine with that. He plans to keep wearing the cap and will try it out during a Grapefruit League game next month.

"Honestly, when I weigh the pros and cons, still, the only things that are bad about it that I can think of is it might not look normal, and I might get teased. I could care less about either one of those," Hughes said. "Overall, it's going to keep me safer and it definitely felt comfortable."

Melancon has never had a close call with a comebacker, he said, but he has seen enough to appreciate the need for additional protection. Similarly, Hughes has been interested in the technology since 2012, and he has plenty of reason to give it a shot.

Hughes is a ground-ball pitcher, relying heavily on sinkers down in the strike zone. As a result, he tends to induce a lot of contact hit directly back toward the mound. In August, Hughes was nearly struck in the face by a line drive off the bat of Cardinals outfielder Stephen Piscotty. The ball grazed Hughes' cheek, but he somehow escaped without a scratch.

Melancon added that he respects any effort to improve pitchers' safety on the mound, and he liked the way the cap felt. He didn't noticeably tug at it or adjust it during his bullpen session.

Still, Melancon isn't so sure he'll keep wearing it.

"I'm one foot in, one foot out," he said. "The one foot out is only on the looks, but that's so shallow. ... In reality it's all about protection, so it doesn't matter what it looks like. It's just new, it's new to me, it's new to everybody."

Over time, Melancon said, he hopes the idea will become normal and accepted throughout baseball.

"I think it's something more guys are going to try. You just never know. You want safety," Hughes said. "It's going to be tough to start trying it because it's not normal. It's not something people are used to. But they probably said that about batting helmets when they first started using those, too. Those ended up saving lives and helping guys out.

"This could be a similar case. That ball's coming off the bat really fast, and it's coming right at our heads sometimes. If there's something we can wear to protect us a little bit, I'm all for that."