ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The most meaningful game Ryan Brasier ever pitches will be his next one.
The righthanded reliever is finally ready to rejoin the Red Sox after nearly seven months of heartbreak, setbacks, and the sheer terror of a line drive hitting him in the head.
“It’s finally all good,” Brasier said Monday. “Honestly, I’ve actually been a little nervous. But more just anxious and so ready to get going.”
Brasier thought this would be the best season of his career. He adhered to a tough workout program over the winter, losing some weight and getting stronger. He reported to spring training early, eager to get on a mound.
“I was probably in the best shape I’ve been in,” Brasier said. “I felt really good.”
But Brasier was summoned back to Texas when his father, David, took a turn for the worse after initially going into the hospital for dehydration. He died on Feb. 11.
David Brasier was an outfielder who played two seasons in the minors long before his son came along. Baseball was their shared passion.
“He watched every game I pitched and came to all the ones he could,” Brasier said. “He loved everything about it.”
Brasier returned to Florida carrying the memories of his father and caught up quickly. He likely would have made the Opening Day roster if not for straining a calf muscle a few days before the end of spring training.
Brasier remained behind in Fort Myers and eventually started pitching in intrasquad games. His last one was scheduled for June 4.
“I had my plane ticket to come back to Boston the next day,” Brasier said. “I was going to throw in a couple of games for Worcester, then be back in mid-June. I was ready to go.”
Instead he was hit on the right side of his head by a line drive and slumped to the mound at JetBlue Park.
When a visibly shaken Alex Cora told reporters what had happened, he asked them to pray for Brasier.
Brasier later learned that the line drive was measured at 104 miles-per-hour off the bat. He still hasn’t watched any video of what happened, but saw a photograph and his glove was up.
“You see the ball coming but it happens so fast,” Brasier said. “I just couldn’t get out of the way.”
Brasier spent 36 hours in the hospital being treated for a concussion and having his ear stitched back together. He still feels some effects from the concussion, including hearing issues. For a while he had trouble sleeping, and would sit up deep into the night watching games on the West Coast.
“I’ve watched more baseball this year than ever,” he said. “I didn’t have much else I could do.”
Brasier has worked with specialists at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and is making progress.
“I had a lot of stuff going on I’d rather not get into,” he said. “For the most part, I’m getting better.”
Brasier had a comebacker in his last minor league game. It was the first time a ball had come close to him.
“It surprised me, but I didn’t flinch,” he said.
When he pitches, Brasier now wears a carbon-fiber and Kevlar liner in his cap that offers a layer of protection. It’s a similar model to what former Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka wore after he was hit in the head by a line drive last season.
“I don’t even notice it,” Brasier said. “I’m glad to have it, 100 percent.”
Brasier, who turned 34 last week, has never had an easy path. He came out of a junior college in Texas and pitched parts of seven seasons in the minors before the Angels finally called him up.
Tommy John surgery followed before he landed in the Oakland organization. Then came a stint in Japan. The Sox offered Brasier a chance in 2018 and he happily accepted.
Brasier was called up in July and rode that opportunity into the World Series. He has been one of the team’s most effective relievers since.
“I’ve hit some walls in my career,” Brasier said. “But none like this this year.”
The last time David Brasier saw his son pitch in person was at Tropicana Field in 2019.
“If I pitch here this week, I’ll be thinking about my dad,” Brasier said. “It’s hard for me to put into words. I just want to help the team. It’s killing me not to be pitching. I’m so ready to get back.”