U.S. not counting out Nix's return

U.S. not counting out Nix's return

BEIJING -- Try on this scenario for size: the United States gets its wish of a rematch with Cuba to decide the gold medal at these Summer Olympics, and Jayson Nix steps up to the plate in the late innings against Pedro Luis Lazo.

It could happen.

Nix, thought to be out of the Beijing Games because of the horrific eye injury he suffered on Friday when struck while bunting against Lazo, told MLB.com after the U.S. team's 9-1 victory over China on Monday that he has high hopes of being back in uniform in the now-likely event that his team reaches the medal round.

U.S. manager Davey Johnson confirmed the thinking, saying he would use the utmost caution, but that at the rate his second baseman from the Rockies organization is progressing, there is a possibility. That would not only be good news for the Americans, but also for fans of the Rockies, who would be likely to call him up when Major League Baseball rosters expand on Sept. 1.

"I'm getting a lot better," said Nix, his swollen left eye unbandaged while at Wukesong Main Field to provide an emotional boost to his teammates. "I had a good day yesterday. I was able to read 20/20. There's still a little blood in there. But I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that I'll be back.

"We'll see how it keeps progressing. I'll be pushing Davey and the guys to let me play. It's always tough to watch. I hate watching."

Johnson, speaking after a game in which six batters were hit by pitches -- including Matt LaPorta, who was hospitalized and given a CAT scan in case of concussion -- has been pleasantly surprised by Nix's progress.

"I'm not gonna rush him out there," Johnson said. "But if he keeps progressing the way he has been, I might use him. I understand his vision is good."

Nix had hit a huge solo homer to tie the score against Cuba at 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth, forcing extra innings. Johnson chose Nix to be his leadoff man when it got to the bottom of the 11th, with Cuba up, 5-3, as both teams had to use the Extra Innings Rule for the first time and place two men on first and second with no outs. Nix then squared to bunt and the pitch from Lazo nicked the bat and hit Nix flush above the left eye.

Nix spoke publicly for the first time about what had happened that day, when Johnson accused Cuba in the postgame news conference of throwing at Nix's head. Cuba immediately denied those charges, and Lazo, who checked on Nix right after the incident, expressed disbelief.

"I don't think they would throw at me in that situation," Nix said. "It wouldn't have made sense to do it on purpose, when you have two runners on base and you're protecting a two-run lead with no outs in the bottom of the 11th.

"But Davey's been around a long time. He's seen a lot of baseball. Whatever he was thinking, that's up to him."

The U.S. team (3-2) can clinch a semifinal berth with a victory over Chinese Taipei (1-4) starting at 7 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET) on Tuesday. Then its seventh and final preliminary game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday against Japan -- a game that could be pivotal to deciding semifinal matchups.

Thursday is a rest day in the baseball competition, and then the two semifinal games will be on Friday. Cuba and Korea already have clinched with 5-0 records. The winners of each semifinal game will meet on Saturday night to determine the gold medal, and the two losers will play in that day's game for the bronze.

"I think our chances are good," Nix said. "We turned our own destiny around. We'll be in good position if we can win our next two remaining games.

"Every game is important for us right now. We just have to keep taking care of business, like we did against China."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.