Daniel Poncedeleon wasn’t going to let a sore neck ruin his major league debut, not after all he has come through in the last year. The determined rookie shook it off and made St. Louis Cardinals history.
Poncedeleon was sensational 14 months after suffering a severe head injury, throwing no-hit ball for seven innings Monday night before Eugenio Suarez led the Cincinnati Reds’ rally against closer Bud Norris (3-3) in the ninth inning for a 2-1 victory.
The 26-year-old right-hander was hit on the right temple by a line drive while pitching for triple-A Memphis on May 9, 2017, fracturing his skull and causing bleeding in the brain. He had surgery followed by months of slow recovery.
Poncedeleon, who played at La Mirada High, was one of the top pitchers in the Pacific Coast League when St. Louis called him up to help its injury-depleted rotation. With 10 family members in the stands, he walked three batters and struck out three, threw 116 pitches and gave way to a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning with St. Louis leading 1-0.
“I don’t know if words can describe that,” interim manager Mike Shildt said. “It’s what’s magical about this game and what we love about this game — stories like that.”
Poncedeleon prayed for calmness before his debut, went to the bullpen to warm up and hurt his neck on one pitch.
“I tweaked my neck in the bullpen and had a hard time looking toward home plate,” he said. “I was a little nervous then.”
The neck was fine once the game began. Poncedeleon joined the Dodgers’ Ross Stripling as the only major leaguers since 1908 to throw at least seven no-hit innings in their debuts.
Given his high pitch count, Shildt had no thought about leaving him in.
“We weren’t in a situation where he would have been able to finish that game with a no-hitter,” Shildt said.