Charlie Culberson suffered multiple facial fractures when he was hit in the right cheek trying to bunt a fastball from Nationals reliever Fernando Rodney during Saturday’s game, but the Braves utilityman was released from the hospital later in the evening, spent the night at the team’s hotel and has been cleared to fly home to Atlanta today.
All things considered, that was positive news from everyone’s perspective today at Nationals Park, where the two clubs are preparing to play their series finale while still piecing together how the situation was handled in the minutes after it occurred.
Both Rodney and manager Davey Martinez offered apologies and sympathies to Culberson and the Braves, with Martinez calling Atlanta manager Brian Snitker this morning to convey his thoughts.
“They said he’s going to be all right,” Martinez said. “But also, too, Fernando wanted to apologize as well. I let him know. It’s unfortunate when something like that happens. As an organization, we feel awful. It’s a part of the game you never want to see. I made sure I talked to Brian today.”
Rodney, who was visibly shaken as he stood roughly 30 feet from the plate as trainers tended to Culberson, said he hoped to speak to him at some point to offer a personal apology.
“I want to say sorry,” Rodney said, “because I don’t want that to happen to anybody.”
Rodney remembered a similar situation on Aug. 3, 2008, when the then-Tigers closer hit Rays catcher Shawn Riggins with a pitch in the chest. He said as much as he wished he didn’t need to continue pitching after it happened, he understood it was necessary.
“Really after that, I say I don’t want to (pitch),” Rodney said. “I feel sorry that that happened. I feel like I tried to do something, I’m supposed to do (something). But that’s baseball. You have to continue to keep working. ... You try to recover your mind and keep going and doing your thing.”
Though Rodney would strike out Adam Duvall (who completed Culberson’s at-bat), he allowed five of the next batters to reach base, with four runs crossing the plate to give the Braves a 5-1 lead en route to a 10-1 blowout victory.
As he did after Saturday’s game, Martinez said he was confident Rodney was OK to continue pitching, based on the 42-year-old’s experience and body language after the moment.
“I’ve had Fernando before (with the Rays and Cubs) and I understand he gets it,” Martinez said. “He understands the game. But it’s a rough moment. A guy’s lying there, you don’t know what’s going on. It’s tough for anybody.”
Martinez also defended the circumstances that ultimately led to Sntiker’s ejection from the game after first base umpire Bill Welke ruled that in spite of being hit in the face Culberson still offered at the pitch, making it a strike instead of a hit-by-pitch.
Plate umpire and crew chief Tim Timmons told a pool reporter after the game that Martinez initiated the request of the swing-or-no-swing call, with Timmons asking Welke, who ruled that Culberson indeed had swung.
“He said: ‘We’d like you to check on whether or not he offered at the pitch,’” Timmons told the pool reporter. “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.”
Asked today about his conversation with the umpires, Martinez declined to go into any detail but was adamant that the scene did not play out as Timmons said.
“It wasn’t the way it was portrayed to be,” the manager said.
Martinez said while he felt bad for Culberson in the moment, he also felt an obligation to inquire about the swing, given the situation: a tie game in the seventh inning. He also mentioned Trea Turner being called for a strike on the pitch that broke his finger in early April as justification for this request.
“I’m going to be honest with you: The last thing I wanted to do was be a jackass,” Martinez said. “I’ll tell you right now. All right? But they get it. They understood. It’s part of the game. We’re in a 1-1 game. I would think that everybody would understand that. It’s unfortunate. It stunk.
“As we all recall, we had a player break his finger in two places because he got hit, and he had to go back and we had to get somebody else to hit for him.”