Cardinals pitcher Daniel Poncedeleon will be called up by St. Louis today and start tonight’s game against the Reds, making his big-league debut little more than a year after an injury suffered on the mound put his career—and maybe his life—in jeopardy. “Talk about a comeback story,” new Cards manager Mike Shildt said, understating things.
Poncedeleon was starting for the AAA Memphis Redbirds when on May 9, 2017, he was struck by a line drive back up the middle.
The ball hit Poncedeleon on the right temple, and while he remained conscious and waved to the crowd as he was stretchered off the field, doctors quickly diagnosed a fracture and an epidural hematoma, or bleeding on the brain. Emergency surgery was necessary to relieve the pressure, and intensive rehab was required just to get back into something resembling a normal life, let alone baseball.
“I can’t even imagine what he dealt with,” Shildt said, “and there for a while it was touch and go just from a lifestyle standpoint, quality of life for him. To be so dogmatic with his mindset that, ‘I’m going to pitch again and I’m going to pitch in the big leagues.’ We’re going to see that sooner than later. It’s impressive.”
The 26-year-old righty has done more than just get back on the mound. Wearing a custom carbon-fiber cap insert to protect against future blows to the head, Poncedeleon got a spring training invitation and has been lights-out this year for Memphis, going 9-3 with a 2.15 ERA and a 10.1 K/9 rate. Last week he struck out the side in an inning of work in the Triple-A All-Star Game.
Poncedeleon—who is the process of changing his last name to Ponce de Leon—was called up to the Cardinals for three games in June, but never got into a game. That won’t happen this time around, as the Cards need a starter following a double-header on Saturday and with Carlos Martinez on the DL. Poncedeleon has been waiting a long time for this, but it’s finally his turn. And once tonight is out of the way, he can go back to being just a regular baseball player:
“I was hoping everyone would forget about it and notice me as [a] pitcher and not a guy who got hit in the head. The dent will always be there. But it’s not going to define me.”