MINNEAPOLIS -- Before this past spring, Twins center fielder Torii Hunter had never once taken a pitch to the head. Now, he's been the unfortunate recipient of two such hits, with the second coming Thursday afternoon in a game against the Royals. Hunter was in his first at-bat of the game when he took a 2-2 pitch from Royals right-hander Zack Greinke square in the mouth. Immediately, Hunter's thoughts turned to one person -- Kirby Puckett. It was Hunter's mentor and the former Twins great who suffered a traumatic hit to the face at the end of the 1995 season which broke his jaw.
Luckily for Hunter, he turned his face away from the pitch just before it grazed him so that the impact was taken on his lips and teeth rather than on the side of his face. He went to Abbott Northwestern Hospital as a precaution and ended up with a very swollen upper lip and a laceration that required three stitches as one tooth penetrated through the lip. But in the end, Hunter was very grateful to come away with such a minor injury. "I thought I was missing teeth, I thought my nose was broke," Hunter said. "I felt like everything was blown up." Hunter was visibly upset after the hit and started to charge toward the mound before collapsing to the ground in pain. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and the team's training staff ran onto the field to aid the center fielder and take care of the blood from the cut on Hunter's lip. Hunter was then replaced in the game by Jason Tyner. But while the pain was significant, Hunter admitted that there were more than a few thoughts going through his head as he began to move toward the pitcher's mound. And the always emotional player tried in earnest to keep himself calm amidst what has been a difficult week. "I've been in the champagne scandal, the Jackie Robinson comments -- I thought about all this and thought man, I can't give anybody else nothing to talk about," Hunter said of his five-yard walk toward the mound. "I figured he didn't try to do it. Most pitchers if they are going to try to hit you they are going to try to hit you in the back, not in the head. And he felt really bad." Greinke and Hunter talked after the incident and it was clear that Greinke felt awful about the entire thing. "When I first hit him, I reacted like any other hit batter," Greinke said. "Then I noticed I hit him in the face and I was like, 'Oh man, I don't want to do that ever.' I felt really bad about it." Despite having to go to the hospital and requiring stitches, Hunter said that he will be back in the lineup on Friday in Detroit, although he is listed as day to day. The first time Hunter was beaned this year came during Spring Training when a pitch from Reds starter and former Twins pitcher Kyle Lohse hit him in the batting helmet. That hit caused him to miss a few days of Spring Training. Despite both incidents, Hunter said he's not afraid to get right back in the batter's box. "What can you do?" Hunter said. "It's like, 'Whatever.' You go back in there tomorrow, and if you get hit there again, you take it again."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.