The first pitch thrown by a big-league pitcher to Giancarlo Stanton in 168 days — since the September night in Milwaukee a Mike Fiers fastball shattered the slugger’s face — was yet another fastball.
As camera shutters clicked, Stanton didn’t flinch.
Then again, the moundsman on Thursday was Marlins teammate Henderson Alvarez, who said he was a “little bit nervous” facing Stanton and extra careful with his aim.
“He kept throwing away I noticed,” Stanton said.
With a throng of reporters, photographers and television camera crews surrounding the batting cage on a minor-league practice diamond at the Marlins’ spring-training complex, Stanton’s first day back in the batter’s box went without incident.
He saw 10 pitches during “live batting practice” and didn’t swing at one.
Afterward, Stanton shrugged off the spring-training ritual, saying it was any other.
“Just like any other spring training,” he said. “I wanted to minimize any expectations, so I didn’t think I would have any thoughts about [last season’s final at-bat], and I didn’t when I was in there.”
Many have wondered if Stanton might now be more timid at the plate.
But he showed no signs of fear Thursday, and the Marlins, who gave him a $325 million contract over the winter, say they’re not concerned there will be any lingering effects from the Sept. 11 beaning.
“The last memory for us of him in a game was a tough one,” manager Mike Redmond said. “It was great to see him back in there, knowing what he went through. But I think you guys were anticipating this day more than us. I haven’t been worried about it. Today went exactly as I planned in my mind for him.”
That Stanton didn’t take a whack at a pitch was not unusual. Many hitters, not yet acclimated to major-league heat, merely “track” pitches the first day to get a feel for velocity and location.
And since some pitchers are still shaking off the winter rust and aren’t at their sharpest in terms of location, the first few sessions can be uncomfortable for hitters.
Stanton, in fact, had the helmet knocked off his head by an errant Jose Fernandez fastball during one such early batting-practice session two years back. He wasn’t injured.
“That was scary,” Redmond recalled. “For position players, this is not their favorite day of the year.”
Stanton was hoping to try out his new, custom-made helmet and face guard, designed to protect him from further injury if another pitch comes at his head.
But that piece of protective equipment didn’t arrive in time for Thursday’s practice.
The helmet, which is manufactured by Schutt Sports, features a carbon steel frame that covers the left side of his face — the side closest to the pitcher.
Stanton flew to the company’s headquarters in Illinois on owner Jeffrey Loria’s private jet on Monday to try the helmet on for size and make suggestions for any adjustments he felt were necessary. Stanton said he wanted a helmet that would provide protection and allow him full sight lines.
“I kind of bounced some ideas and figured out what would work and still be safe enough,” Stanton said.
Stanton said the metal frame will bend slightly, but not break, if struck by a 100-mph pitch.
“It’ll put a little bend in there,” Stanton said. “But it has enough [strength] so that I’m comfortable about it.”
Stanton said he’ll likely begin using the new head gear Friday when he steps into the cage again for another round of live BP.
▪ The Marlins’ bid to land free agent reliever Francisco Rodriguez fell short when the Brewers snagged the pitcher with the highest offer:
Rodriguez received a two-year deal for $13 million, with a club option for 2017, according to reports.