Alex Cobb: Time of essence for caps

Updated: March 22, 2014, 7:47 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The company that is developing protective caps for major league pitchers says it will have new caps available for pitchers by mid-to-late April. But one pitcher who was hit in the head by a line drive last year says that's probably too late.

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Alex Cobb, who missed two months after being hit on the right ear June 15 by a ball off the bat of Kansas City's Eric Hosmer, told ESPN.com on Friday that it's so close to the regular season, he can't envision himself, or most pitchers, experimenting with new equipment once the games matter.

[+] EnlargeAlex Cobb
AP Photo/Brian BlancoAlex Cobb, who was felled by a liner in 2013, wants freedom to choose the protective cap he might wear as well as enough time to become accustomed to it.

"I'm not going to try anything now," Cobb said. "I'm five starts into spring training and two starts away from pitching in a regular-season game. So I'm not going to go that route any longer, unless it's something that's just completely unnoticeable."

On Thursday, a day after Reds closer Aroldis Chapman was hit on the forehead by a line drive in a game in Arizona, Cobb told reporters he was frustrated that, more than a month into spring training, pitchers still hadn't been able to try out any of the new protective caps.

Within a half-hour of the time those remarks hit the Internet, Cobb said Friday, he'd gotten word through the training staff that there would "be somebody here next week" to show him a new padded cap being developed by the 4Licensing Corp., in conjunction with the New Era cap company.

But even next week, with Opening Day only a few days away, is too late, Cobb said, for pitchers to switch to anything that new and different, unless the cap feels so similar to current caps that the difference is "unnoticeable -- and I think the chances of that are very slim."

"It's like anything else, whatever field it is," Cobb said. "If it's somebody who's at the highest level -- a guitarist, a pianist, anything that is so extreme in their specific field -- if you mess with something that's going on that they're not normally used to, it's going to throw them off a little bit."

Bruce Foster, CEO of 4Licensing Corp., told ESPN's William Weinbaum on Thursday that even though its isoBlox padded cap was approved by Major League Baseball in January, the company believed it needed to make changes after getting complaints from pitchers who tried out the new caps during offseason workouts.

"What was approved met the criteria," Foster said. "The breathe-ability needed to be tweaked. We are going to move to a mesh-type cap. And for the overall look, we are extending some of the side panels so it doesn't look flat."

But Cobb said he'd hoped that "when I got to spring training there'd be something in the trainer's room for me to start throwing bullpens in. And if I liked it, I'd be able to carry it into the games. And if I liked it in the games, I'd be able to carry it into the regular season."

So while he acknowledges the new caps wouldn't have protected the area where Chapman was hit, "that doesn't mean we should stop striving to go in the right direction."

"I'm not saying that if we did have something, it would have helped Chapman," said Cobb, who struggled with vertigo and concussion symptoms for weeks after being hit. "It wouldn't, obviously, because he got hit in the wrong place. But it just shows how real this is.

"I thought we had some time before this would surface again. But obviously, we don't. And it could happen again tomorrow. So we need something to have the ability to choose from. I'm not even saying that I would use one. But basically, the freedom to choose is all pitchers are asking for."

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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