Pinch-hitter Charlie Culberson squared to bunt in the top of the seventh inning of the Braves’ 10-1 win over the Nationals on Saturday. But a Fernando Rodney fastball hit him in the face near his right eye. Culberson collapsed at the plate and was down for several minutes. He was then assisted to a cart by medical personnel and driven off the field to the hospital. As he was carted off, he gave the crowd a thumbs-up gesture.
Rodney ended up facing nine more batters and had difficulty recording outs. The Braves connected on three hits, scoring two runs and benefiting from two walks with two strikeouts off of Rodney in the inning. The right-hander appeared pretty rattled after seeing Culberson go down.
“Ball gets away and hits a guy in the face, that’s tough,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez. “It was tough and he had to regroup. I thought he threw the ball well. (Ozzie) Albies stuck the bat out, got a hit, but he knows he’s got to pitch in those big moments like that and just wasn’t his day either today. He’s just got to come back and regroup.”
Rodney had left the clubhouse prior to the media access period after the game. But watching Rodney unable to string together outs after the hit by pitch in the face, was Martinez concerned that the right-hander had lost a little bit of focus?
Rodney did strike out Adam Duvall, who had replaced the injured Culberson, but after that, allowed two huge run-scoring hits.
“He understands the game and he struck out the guy and he seemed like he was doing OK,” Martinez said. “We were watching him and he just gave up a first pitch double to (Ronald) Acuña and we can all agree he’s a pretty good hitter. But we need these guys in the stretch, they understand that.”
Catcher Raudy Read, who said he has been hit in the face three times in his career, can understand how scary a moment like that is for a player. Read believes Rodney is very upset about hitting Culberson.
“He doesn’t want to do that because he wasn’t looking to hit a guy in the face,” Read said. “I think he feel really bad. He maybe got kind of struggle a little bit, maybe was thinking about that.”
There was not an immediate update on Culberson’s condition. Martinez said he will reach out to Braves manager Brian Snitker to check on Culberson.
“It was awful. You never wish that upon anybody,” Martinez said. “You don’t. I hope he’s all right and my plan is to talk to Snik either tonight or tomorrow and make sure he’s all right and I know they get it. It stinks, but it’s part of it. I know Rodney feels awful. I just hope Culberson’s all right.”
Snitker was ejected from the game after umpires ruled that Culberson offered at the pitch in a bunt attempt, making the pitch a called strike. But during the hit by pitch on Culberson, a strike call was not initiated by home plate umpire Tim Timmons. The call was made after Martinez came out to question if it was a strike.
“When the ball came in, I had one sound,” Timmons said to a pool reporter. “I had the ball hitting him obviously. The very first concern was clearly for (Culberson). (We were) in the process of asking him to stay on the ground and not move and the trainer getting out there and them starting to look at him.
“After we got into that a little bit, Dave Martinez was saying something to me. I couldn’t hear him. So I walked over and I said, ‘What’s going on?” He said, ‘We’d like you to check on whether or not he offered at the pitch.’
“I said, ‘OK, I understand. I’ll do that.’ At which point I went to first base umpire Bill Welke and asked him if he had him offer at the pitch. He said, ‘Yes, he did.’ So that’s the situation. Brian got upset, given he had gotten hit in the face. He was obviously upset.”
Timmons was asked whether umpires should be sympathetic to a player getting hit in the face and just call the pitch no play.
“We’re always sympathetic to a guy hit in the eye,” Timmons said. “But the rules are the rules. (Welke) had him offering at the pitch and that’s what we had.”
Reliever Wander Suero, who started the seventh inning with two walks before being lifted for Rodney, empathizes with Culberson.
“Absolutely a scary moment,” Suero said via translator Octavio Martinez. “Unfortunately, it happened to Culberson, but it could’ve easily happened to one of our ballplayers. Rivals have nothing to do with the incident. A scary moment like that, we’re all ballplayers and we support each other. We wish nothing but the best. Hopefully, he’s all right. It’s just one of these unfortunate situations that comes about. We just hope for the best.”