Hawksworth putting scary injury behind him

Hawksworth putting scary injury behind him

PHOENIX -- The last time Blake Hawksworth was on the mound in a game, he literally was down on the mound, in a heap, felled by a Sam Fuld line drive in the mouth.

It was Sept. 25 last year at Wrigley Field. Pitching for St. Louis, Hawksworth was lucky, if there's anything lucky about being drilled in the mouth by a line drive. No broken bones, no lost teeth. He received 40 stitches in his mouth and lip and was hospitalized overnight with a mild concussion.

He didn't pitch the last week of the season. On Nov. 30, he was traded to the Dodgers for Ryan Theriot. The Dodgers envision Hawksworth, who turns 28 next week, as a younger version of Jeff Weaver who can pitch multiple innings of middle relief.

As a rookie in 2009, Hawksworth went 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA in 30 relief appearances. He struggled last year when he made eight starts and 37 relief outings, going 4-8 with a 4.98 ERA.

"As a starter he was throwing 90 [mph], 91 and out of the bullpen 94, 95," said manager Don Mattingly. "Sometimes a guy thinks when he's starting he has to pace himself. Out of the 'pen he's more aggressive and attacking. We feel that's where he fits best."

Hawksworth is out of options, so he'll have every opportunity to make the club out of Spring Training. Of course, for that to happen, he first must clear the hurdle of the potential psychological aftermath from that drilling.

"I'll face hitters, same as always," said Hawksworth. "It's part of the game. You can't pitch cautiously. It split my lip, knocked my teeth, but it could have been worse. I saw it, but it was too fast to do anything about it. They said I had a mild concussion. I did lose consciousness for a moment."

Hawksworth said he's never looked at the video. Will he ever?

"Good question," he said, sidestepping the good question. "It was scary. I didn't know what my face looked like."

After a few minutes on the ground, Hawksworth rose to his feet and walked off the field bleeding from the lip.

Hiroki Kuroda knows what Hawksworth faces in his return. Kuroda took a Rusty Ryal line drive to the forehead Aug. 15, 2009, in Arizona. Kuroda not only suffered a concussion that sent him to the hospital, he also believes that a bulging disk in his neck resulted from the whiplash effect of the impact.

Kuroda is candid about the injuries that don't show up on an MRI.

"Yes, of course, you fear you'll get hit again," said Kuroda. "You don't know if you can overcome it. It's hard to pitch anyway. But at some point you have to throw. If you have fear, you can't do the job. For me to overcome it, I had to tell myself I've got to be stronger. As a pitcher, once you have fear you're pretty much at the end of your career. I had to remind myself that I can't have that fear."

Kuroda remembers when he first faced a batter in a game after what he considered a brush with death.

"My first start was a rehab start in San Bernardino and I had a little fear," said Kuroda. "I had a fear of having a fear. The times I was hurt previously, it was my shoulder and oblique, and those are physical. Being hit in the head is really mental and to overcome that is more difficult than physical."

Kuroda overcame his, rebounding in 2010 with his healthiest season. He went 11-13 with a 3.39 ERA and 196 1/3 innings and earned a one-year, $12 million contract to return to the starting rotation.

The Dodgers aren't looking for that much out of Hawksworth. But he has more to rebound from more than the Wrigley scare. The Dodgers need the 2009 Hawksworth, not the 2010 Hawksworth. He was St. Louis' 28th Draft pick in 2001 who missed most of 2004 and 2005 with shoulder labrum surgery. He reached the Major Leagues in June 2009 and was a surprising contributor in the Cardinals' playoff drive that season.

Then came 2010. His worst start of the year was against the Dodgers, when he allowed six runs in four innings.

"I have no excuses for last year," he said. "My arm was healthy. My roles varied but I saw that as a challenge. I was glad I went through it and I like the way I finished. All but that line drive."

Hawksworth spent the offseason assisting a buddy who coaches a high school basketball team. He said he was surprised when he learned of the trade to the Dodgers after nearly a decade with St. Louis, but said he's prepared to be a reliever or a starter, whatever he can do to make the team.

Kuroda, though, has a suggestion.

"He should watch the replay," said Kuroda, who watched himself getting hit while at the hospital and has seen it dozens of times since. "It's really hard to forget something so traumatic. You have to be like an actor, take on a different personality on the mound. For me, I had to force myself to play that role."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.