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Avila pondering change in catcher's mask

Concussions have Tigers backstop considering hockey-style gear for next season
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- Alex Avila isn't sure whether a change of masks will change his fortunes when it comes to concussions. At this point, however, he's willing to consider it.

"I don't think there's really a final solution," Avila told Chris Russo on MLB Network's "High Heat" on Friday afternoon. "There's nothing you're going to wear that's going to completely eliminate the risk, but there are ways to reduce it."

DETROIT -- Alex Avila isn't sure whether a change of masks will change his fortunes when it comes to concussions. At this point, however, he's willing to consider it.

"I don't think there's really a final solution," Avila told Chris Russo on MLB Network's "High Heat" on Friday afternoon. "There's nothing you're going to wear that's going to completely eliminate the risk, but there are ways to reduce it."

Avila's comments echoed and expanded upon those he made earlier in the week to The Detroit News, which reported Avila is researching a switch to a hockey-style mask and helmet for next year.

Avila has worn a traditional mask for his entire big league career. He wore a lightweight mask with titanium bars, designed to fly off the helmet on an impact and take the force away from the catcher's head, until switching to an older-style mask with steel bars following his concussion in Cleveland in August 2013. The mask also included greater lateral coverage to try to lessen the risk from foul tips off the side of his helmet, after his concussion from a foul tip that hit him near his ear.

With help from the Tigers' medical staff, Avila also took extra precautions off the field, wearing a Cryohelmet to cool his head and carotid artery after games and following heavy impacts.

The heavier mask seemed to make a difference until multiple concussions over the summer, including another heavy impact off a foul tip in Cleveland in early September. Avila's season ended on the bench after he suffered a concussion off a foul tip in Game 3 of the Tigers' American League Division Series sweep at the hands of the Orioles.

Video: BAL@DET Gm3: Avila exits after taking foul off mask

"It was very frustrating coming out of that game, having to watch it in the trainer's room," Avila told Russo. "Injuries, they happen in baseball, but when they happen in games of that magnitude, it's very frustrating."

Avila reiterated the assessment he received from doctors last month, that he shouldn't have long-term concerns as long as he treats incidents proactively and doesn't try to play through them. At the same time, he acknowledged concern on his part.

"I wouldn't lie and say it hasn't been in the back of my mind since the first concussion," he said. "It's part of the job. At the same time, I can't ignore it."

Whether a hockey-style mask would make a difference isn't clear. Red Sox catcher David Ross switched out of a hockey-style mask and back to a traditional mask. The hockey helmet offers greater protection on the sides, but the front is closer to the face.

Tigers catching prospect James McCann wears a hockey-style mask. So too did former Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge when he caught.

Whatever he chooses, Avila repeated to Russo the line he has used often when asked what he can do to help prevent concussions.

"It really doesn't matter what I wear," he said. "If you get hit hard enough, you're going to get concussions."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Detroit Tigers, Alex Avila