WASHINGTON -- A high, 91-mph fastball from Fernando Rodney rode up and in on Braves pinch-hitter Charlie Culberson, who had squared to bunt with two runners on and nobody out in the top of the seventh inning Saturday, before hitting him in the face.
Culberson never moved to clear his head as the pitch tailed toward him. It hit him square, dropping him to the ground and creating a frightening scene at Nationals Park in a 1-1 game between Atlanta and Washington, which Atlanta went on to win 10-1.
Home plate umpire Tim Timmons immediately signaled for medical help from the Atlanta dugout. Culberson remained down for a couple minutes. Several Nationals players knelt in the field while he was tended to.
Eventually, Culberson sat up, then stood with a towel pressed to his face. He walked to a medical vehicle just behind home plate before being driven off the field.
Atlanta manager Brian Snitker was ejected shortly afterward, appearing upset the pitch was called a strike after umpires ruled Culberson never took his bat back before the ball struck him. Timmons, also the crew chief, explained to a pool reporter why the pitch was called a strike:
“When the ball came in I had one sound,” Timmons said. “I had the ball hitting him obviously. The very first concern was clearly for [Culberson]. 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, ‘Okay, I understand. I’ll do that.’ At which point, I went to first base umpire Bill Welke and asked him if he had him offering at the pitch. He said, ‘Yes, he did.’ So, that’s the situation. Brian [Snitker] got upset given he had gotten hit in the face. He was obviously upset.”
Culberson was taken to a local hospital for further examination. The Braves remained upset after the game the pitch was called a strike.
“You can't do anything,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “That's a ridiculous call. You can't move, you can't do anything. He didn't make an attempt at it. He just squared around and tried to get out of the way. It's just bad all the way around."
Rodney struck out Culberson’s replacement, Adam Duvall, before Ronald Acuña Jr. doubled, Ozzie Albies doubled, Freddie Freeman was intentionally walked, Josh Donaldson lined out, Nick Markakis singled, and Matt Joyce walked. Tyler Flowers struck out to end the inning.
Rodney walked slowly off the mound while looking into left field. He was not in the clubhouse when reporters entered following a significant delay while waiting for manager Davey Martinez to arrive for his postgame press conference.
“It was awful,” Martinez said. “You never wish that upon anybody. You don't. I hope he's all right and my plan is to talk to Snik either [Friday] 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.”
Did Martinez think Rodney was in the right frame of mind to handle the rest of the inning?
“Ball gets away and hits a guy in the face, that's tough,” Martinez said. “It was tough and he had to regroup. I thought he threw the ball well. 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.”
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