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New protective cap a headache to some pitchers

Alex Torres of the San Diego Padres models

Alex Torres of the San Diego Padres models the protective pitchers hat before a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park on June 22, 2014 in San Diego. Credit: Getty Images / Andy Hayt

TORONTO - Hiroki Kuroda noticed something different when he saw a highlight of Alex Torres pitching Saturday night but, then, how could he not have?

Torres, a Padres reliever, became the first player in the majors to wear the protective baseball cap that was approved by MLB in January.

"The impression I got was, OK, he's wearing something that no one's wearing," Kuroda said through his translator Monday.

He smiled and added: "It was noticeable."

Kuroda, of course, was not making light of the reason behind the cap's invention: protecting pitchers' heads from line drives up the middle.

Kuroda himself was a victim on Aug. 15, 2009, when he was with the Dodgers and Rusty Ryal sent one off the side of his head.

But the cap, Kuroda and other pitchers in the Yankees' clubhouse said, isn't yet something they're interested in trying.

The reasons are both aesthetic and practical.

The hat, which looks like a traditional baseball cap only blown up with an air pump with its half-inch of padding up front and over an inch on the sides, is cumbersome.

"I personally feel that if they come up with a better hat, not as heavy . . . like make it light and make it similar to a regular hat, that would be the ideal situation," Kuroda said.

Reliever Adam Warren recalled when the cap was shown around the clubhouse during spring training.

"The conclusion we came to was it was just really bulky," said Warren, who was not among those trying one on. "I feel like there's enough obstacles out there pitching. I think we're all for something to protect us because it can be scary out there, but we also want to be able to pitch to the best of our ability."

David Phelps, who started Tuesday night's game against the Jays and has been hit by several liners, though never in the head, in his professional career, applauds the initial effort but said the prototype needs work.

"I love that they're trying to do something about it [protecting pitchers]," he said. "But as pitchers, we're so sensitive about how everything feels because our mechanics and our balance and everything is so important to us. Something that size can throw it off the slightest bit . . . it's not for me yet."

Like Kuroda, reliever David Huff has firsthand experience with the rationale behind the cap. It was May 29, 2010, at the Stadium when he was an Indians starter and Alex Rodriguez ripped a liner off the side of his head, the ball ricocheting down the rightfield line for a double.

Huff, who started this season with the Giants, was eager to try the cap on during spring training but felt uncomfortable after one windup. The lefthander described it as "a little bulky" and compared it to wearing a "bike helmet." He then added a similar point to Warren's.

"It's already hard enough," Huff said of pitching without an added distraction.

Huff laughed and said there's another distraction, knowing full well how it sounded.

"Pitchers . . . it's a bad way to say this, but pitchers have egos, they don't want to go out there and look stupid," he said. "They want to look like everybody else."

Still, Huff and the other pitchers questioned in the clubhouse all said they hope the cap is just a beginning step.

"I like where they're going with it," Huff said. "Just hoping somewhere down the line, it's a little less noticeable."

Warren feels eventually it will be.

"I'm sure," he said, "the technology will get there."

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