Saturday Sept. 4, 2010
Posted: 12:05 p.m.
By Kevin T. Czerwinski
Josh Phegley had been nicked and dinged with foul balls before. Some hurt more than others but whether the ball smashes into your thumb and splits it or just glances off your chest protector, getting hit is the part of a catchers job that is unavoidable.
So when Phegley, 22, took a ding off his thigh back in April, he didnt think much of it. A simple foul ball that grazed off his glove and hit him in the thigh was commonplace. This time, however, the bruise that impact made began to grow, reaching nearly 12 inches. It was at that point that Phegley, the player whom the White Sox chose with the 38th pick in the 2009 draft, realized there was a problem.
I just started to notice some red dots, Phegley said. It was almost like a bruise but the dots were passive and I was thinking what are these? And then I ended up getting the bruise on my leg and it was 10-12 inches wide. It didnt go away and that was my first indication that something was wrong.
The Chicago medical staff ran some blood work on Phegley and he continued to play for Winston-Salem of the Carolina League. When it was determined that he was suffering from a condition known as idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura ITP, he was immediately placed on the disabled list and began to medication to help alleviate the problem.
ITP is a bleeding condition in which the blood doesnt clot as it should. Its caused by a low number of platelets in the blood. The little dots that Phegley saw on his skin are known as petechiae and often look like a rash.
I never had a problem before that and I felt totally normal, said Phegley, who is finishing out this season with Double-A Birmingham. I never had anything like this in my life. It just came on. My blood work checked out fine in spring training. Theres no known cause and Ive spent this year trying to get back on the field because of it.
After the first time you get it, theres more of a chance of getting it again than any other person. A high percentage of people never get it again. But the entire time I had it, I never felt any different. I felt totally normal.
Yet, there could have been serious consequences had Phegley continued playing after he was diagnosed. Had he suffered an injury that resulted in bleeding, the results could have been devastating. So, the White Sox put him on the disabled list after he played on April 15 and he didnt return to action until he began his rehab assignment with Bristol on June 22.
Phegley played at Bristol and then again with Winston-Salem for two weeks before going back on the disabled list for three weeks in July. He finally returned to action on July 30 and spent a little over two weeks in the Carolina League before moving up to the Double-A Southern League.
The last game I played in April before I had my blood ran, I had a collision at the plate with the Nationals Boomer Whiting, Phegley said. Hes a small guy, about 150 pounds. If it was a bigger guy, I could have gotten a concussion, which is basically a bruise in your head, and it wouldnt have stopped bleeding.
When my platelets are low, I start to get those spots because my capillaries are thin. I can start bleeding out so a big gash is more of a risk. If Im playing the outfield, it wouldnt bee as much of an issue. The fact that any ball can be fouled off me makes it a risk.
Despite understanding the risks and issuing a warning to himself, Phegley said he never considered moving out from behind the plate. He has controlled his condition with medication and gets his blood checked regularly to make sure his condition was temporary and not chronic. He will continue to get his blood checked weekly until long-term stability is evident.
If everything checks out fine when I get my blood done I dont even think about it, he said. It was just kind of a fluke disorder that came out of nowhere. And I love catching so changing positions hasnt even crossed my mind.
Phegley is hitting a combined .274 through 45 games at the three levels this season. Hes got four homers, driven in 21 runs and was named as one of the White Sox who will be playing in the Arizona Fall League this season.
Hes been using what time he has spent on the field this season wisely. Phegley is working with the more experienced players at the Double-A level and getting used to a game that moves much quicker than it does in the Carolina League. Hes worked with catcher Cole Armstrong and pitching coach JR Perdew on slowing the game down and will take what hes learned into the AFL season.
I missed a lot of this year so Ill be going to the Instructional League for a while, too, Phegley said. The Fall League is basically going to be my season. Im pretty excited to get going.
Kevin Czerwinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.