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Balester plunks second batter in the head

Balester plunks second batter in the head

PHOENIX -- Nationals manager Jim Riggleman shied from using the word "concerned" regarding young reliever Collin Balester's wildness on the mound.

Opposing batters may feel differently.

Balester's 95-mph fastball plunked the D-backs' Mark Reynolds in his batting helmet in the sixth inning of the Nats' 6-1 loss on Tuesday, the pitcher's second hit-in-the-head victim in nine days.

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"It's one of those things where you never want that to happen in your whole career," Balester said from his Chase Field visiting clubhouse locker. "Obviously, it's unintentional. It's not a good situation to be in."

This time, it happened one at-bat following Reynolds' game-altering three-run home run off Nats starter Scott Olsen. That explained why the presiding umpiring crew, led by crew chief Joe West, issued warnings to each dugout after the incident. (There were no apparent attempts of retaliation waged by the D-backs, and Arizona interim skipper Kirk Gibson also shooed Balester away from home plate immediately afterward.)

"I tried to get out of the way, and it got me, and my first instinct was to get up and run to first base, but the trainers made me stay down to make sure I was all right," said Reynolds, who turned 27 on Tuesday, but was aged further by a large welt on the left side of his forehead.

"I told them I was good to stay in the game. I just got lucky and it didn't get me too good.

"I guess the pitch just got away from him or whatever, and no hard feelings."

Which is what Balester confirmed: When his right elbow drops, he said, he gets underneath the baseball and his arm can't catch up to follow through correctly.

"Obviously, it's one of those things I have to work on," he added.

But it's no new problem. Balester hit six batters in his 2008 rookie campaign -- he made 15 starts that season before transitioning into a relief role -- and two more in five games this season since his July 24 callup. In his first ever Major League relief appearance that July day, he struck the Brewers' Rickie Weeks in the head with a 94-mph heater.

"I hope it's just a fluke coincidence," Riggleman said. "Something about when the ball comes out of his hand, it runs up and in on somebody, and you can't have that."

Riggleman added that, under different circumstances, he would have replaced Balester in the game with a left-handed reliever in order to match up with the next hitter, Arizona's Stephen Drew. Under much different circumstances.

"I didn't want to send such a negative message to Bale that he hit the guy and now we're going to get him out of the game," the skipper explained. "That's not how I wanted his night to end. He came right back and pitched to Drew outstanding."

In fact, Balester struck Drew out on three pitches.

Though the status of Reynolds, however promising -- the D-backs' third baseman underwent multiple tests, was suffering no headaches and hoped to be in Wednesday's lineup -- was certainly weighing on Balester.

"You have to try to put it behind it you," he said. "It's kind of hard after it just happened, but you just have to keep on pitching. ... Obviously, all you think about is his health, and hopefully he's doing all right."

"It's unfortunate," added Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, Reynolds' former teammate at the University of Virginia. "You never want to see that happen to anyone in a game. It happens. It's part of the game. I think all of us that have played this game have been hit in the head once or twice."

Andrew Pentis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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