Angel pitcher Kent Mercker went from what seemed like a severe headache to a potentially life-threatening condition late Thursday night, when a hemorrhage was discovered on the surface of his brain.
Mercker, 32, was placed in intensive care at UCI Medical Center in Orange, where a CT scan and an arteriogram indicated bleeding between his brain and his skull.
Dr. John Kusske, chair of neurological surgery at UCI Medical Center, said the cause and origin of the bleeding hasn’t been determined, but Angel physician Lewis Yocum said the bleeding stopped by Friday. Mercker was in stable condition and was expected to remain in intensive care through the weekend.
Yocum said it’s possible that Mercker, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday night, could need brain surgery.
“Any time there’s bleeding around the brain, it’s a very serious situation,” Yocum said. “There are potentially some serious problems.”
Mercker’s problems began in the second inning of Thursday night’s game against the Texas Rangers, when he doubled over and placed his hands on his knees, as if to catch his breath, after a strikeout.
Four pitches later, he was hunched over again, complaining of a headache and dizziness, and was pulled from the game. After examining Mercker in the clubhouse, Yocum and Angel athletictrainer Ned Bergert agreed that he should be sent to a hospital for further evaluation.
“We saw things that were not typical of a mild headache,” Yocum said. “With the severity of the headache, we did not feel comfortable trying to treat it at the park.”
The three most common causes of a brain hemorrhage, according to doctors, are an aneurysm, malformed blood vessels or trauma. Trauma has been ruled out in Mercker’s case, but among the other possible causes are hypertension, dehydration or a tumor. All are being investigated.
Both Yocum and General Manager Bill Stoneman, who visited Mercker along with Angel pitcher Kent Bottenfield on Friday night, said Mercker had not brought any previous symptoms to their attention.
“He was sleeping, and when we walked in, he woke up and recognized us immediately,” Stoneman said of their five-minute visit. “He smiled, he appeared relaxed, calm, very stable. There were a lot of gadgets attached to him, but other than that, he looked very good.”
The same could not be said of Mercker’s teammates, who were somewhat in shock. Already reeling from the loss of pitcher Ken Hill and shortstop Gary DiSarcina to injuries this week, they were stunned by news of Mercker.
“It’s like a numbing feeling,” catcher Matt Walbeck said amid a somber clubhouse before Friday night’s 13-11 loss to the Rangers at Edison Field. “It’s more of a reality check. Just because we’re all big and bad on the baseball field doesn’t mean we’re not human. It’s a shock. It shakes you up a bit.”
A few players who remained in the clubhouse long after Thursday night’s game were aware that Mercker’s condition had worsened, but many Angels didn’t hear the news until they arrived at the park Friday.
Angel first baseman Mo Vaughn was too distraught to speak to reporters before the game. Left fielder Darin Erstad was at a loss for words. “I really don’t know what to say,” he said. Manager Mike Scioscia said Mercker’s condition made a baseball game seem trivial.
“Baseball is not your first priority when something like this happens,” Angel reliever Mark Petkovsek said. “It’s difficult, because I know Julie [Mercker’s wife] and his two kids, and you realize what he is to that family. He’s a dad, a husband, not just a baseball player.”
DiSarcina has a serious medical condition of his own. He will travel to Chicago on Monday to undergo an angiogram, which will examine the blood vessels in his sore neck and right shoulder, and visit with James Yao, a vascular surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
But his thoughts were also on Mercker, a veteran left-hander who was excited about joining the Angel rotation last weekend after spending the first five weeks of the season in the bullpen.
“It’s unbelievable,” said DiSarcina, who has witnessed more than his share of tragedy and bizarre injuries in his nine years with the Angels. “It’s definitely serious. You’re talking about his brain. That’s not a pulled hamstring or anything.”
Ironically, Mercker said in an interview Wednesday that he felt somewhat guilty about gaining a spot in the rotation because of injuries to pitchers Ken Hill and Jason Dickson and Ramon Ortiz’s demotion to triple-A Edmonton.
“I’ve always contended if getting into the rotation means guys getting hurt or pitching poorly, I didn’t want it,” said Mercker, who was unhappy about being assigned to the bullpen to start the season. “I guess someone else’s misfortunes are my fortunes.”
Until Thursday night.
“This is real life, real world,” Scioscia said. “It’s very sobering. It seems like he’s stabilized. The bleeding has stopped, but what caused it? The short-term news is good, but this is a very scary condition.”
So is DiSarcina’s condition--not because it’s life-threatening but because it could threaten his season. Numerous tests have proven inconclusive, but it appears the tightness in his right shoulder might be circulatory in nature, so the Angels have decided to send him to a vascular expert.
“They’re trying to do every test, on the nerves, blood vessels, muscles, bones, just so they don’t jump to any conclusions,” said DiSarcina, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday. “Then, at the end, it’s like putting together a puzzle. We’ll sit down and say, how do we attack this?
“Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s tendinitis. But something is not allowing me to throw the ball across the field, and it’s not something that’s going to be cured by 10 days of rest.”
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