BOSTON—Ten days after suffering a concussion when a fly ball he was trying to catch in left field hit him in the head, DJ Stewart is back. On August 6, Stewart came in a shallow fly ball hit by the Yankees’ Mike Ford, stumbled as he tried to change direction and lost sight of the ball. It struck him near the temple.
“He kind of hit the ball off the end of the bat,” Stewart said. “I knew I had to book it to get over there. Kind of ran in first and then realized I need to go over a little bit, but I think my body and momentum was already down to the ground. I looked up and realized … I’d see if I could catch the ball, but I knew I wasn’t going to be make the catch and just tried to protect myself, but wasn’t able to and it hit me on the right in the side of the head.”
Initially, Stewart was cleared to remain in the game, but was pinch-hit for when his turn came up in the bottom of the fourth.
“As that inning continued, I felt more pressure in my head,” Stewart said. “ Didn’t really know some things that I should have known. But didn’t really feel anything bad as soon as the play happened. I felt like I was ready to go.
“I think the training staff did a great job of assessing me out there, but once I got in the dugout they assessed me again. You never know with concussions. You can get the symptoms right away, they could not come and then come later on, so you never know. They did a great job of handling that situation, but as the inning went on I felt a little bit more pressure and it was the right decision for me to come out.”
Stewart’s attempt to catch Ford’s ball was widely shown on highlights, and he didn’t like the impression it left.
“I watched it one time,” Stewart said. “Everyone seems to tag me in it. I’m not a good baseball player. I can’t catch a ball, but I’ve seen it once. It was just a baseball play, and, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make the play. I’m looking to redeem myself and show that I can actually play defense for the guys who think I can’t.”
Stewart hoped that 2019 would be the year when he’d get a full opportunity to play for the Orioles. He played just seven games before suffering a sprained right ankle on June 5 when he and Hanser Alberto collided in pursuit of a foul ball.
After a lengthy rehab, Stewart was playing in his first major league game since then when he suffered the concussion.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Stewart of his return. ”Hopefully be able to stay on the field a little bit longer. It’s obviously been something kind of new for me. I’ve never been hurt in my career and for this stuff to kind of come back-to-back, it’s been tough for me … but glad to be back and hopefully stay out there and stay safe and contribute to the team.”
Manager Brandon Hyde is looking forward to getting time to evaluate Stewart.
“He’s had a tough couple of months, physically, and just some bad breaks when it comes to the injury standpoint,” Hyde said. “We’re hoping he can stay healthy the rest of the year and he’s going to get a lot of opportunities to play.”
Stewart will start in right field on Friday against the Red Sox, and Trey Mancini will move to left, in front of Boston’s Green Monster. It’s Mancini’s first start in left since April 18.
“I’m always eager to play,” Stewart said. “It doesn’t matter where I play. I played right field here last year … [Adam Jones] went to left, and I went to right. It’s a big area out there, but for me, it’s a big opportunity to show that I can go both ways and make plays for our team.”
Stewart said this wasn’t his first concussion. He had them playing football before concentrating on baseball in college.
“Most important is not to push it faster than you should be because, your brain, you only get one of them,” Stewart said. “There’s no transplant or anything like that. There’s life after baseball as well. I want to have kids, and I want to teach them, and I’ve had concussions before playing football.
“… Obviously if you’ve had multiple, you want to err on the side of caution with that, so just not to push it. Even though I want to get back here as soon as I can, just not to push it and be cautious with it.”
To make room for Stewart on the 25-man roster, the Orioles optioned right-handed pitcher Chandler Shepherd to Triple-A Norfolk. Shepherd allowed one run in four innings on Tuesday night in his major league debut.
Four-man bench: For the moment, Hyde has a four-man bench. It will be difficult for Hyde to keep it for long if the pitchers continue to struggle, but on September 1, rosters can be expanded to 40 players.
“Hopefully, we can stick with this number,” Hyde said. “We just haven’t had the opportunity to this year, just the way our pitching is. The starters haven’t given us a ton of length, bullpen guys being taxed a little bit. We’ve always had to carry that extra pitcher. I’d love to go into September with this number, but we’ll see.”