Avila comes off DL after concussion recovery
Tigers catcher missed more than two weeks after taking foul tip off mask in Cleveland
DETROIT -- Alex Avila has returned after more than two weeks on the disabled list, and he believes he's back from the concussion symptoms that left him sidelined for much of August. The Tigers activated the catcher from the 15-day DL on Tuesday, returning him to big league action for the first time since Aug. 10.
He returns with more protective equipment to hopefully prevent a recurrence of the injury. Avila also returns with a keen awareness of how serious his situation was.
"It's been on my mind a lot," he said. "When I saw pictures of my daughter when I'm on the road, or when I was in Toledo and I had to come out of the first [rehab] game, I'm not going to lie, it was on my mind. But at the same time, I know that there's people that care about me as far as making sure that I am healthy.
"That's one of the reasons why I think we took our time with it to make sure that I was healthy before I came back. That's definitely something I thought about."
Avila was sidelined for a week and a half due to recurrent headaches following a foul tip off his mask in an Aug. 8 game at Cleveland. Initial tests did not show a concussion, and team doctors cleared him the next day to rejoin the team. Avila was back behind the plate Aug. 10 at Yankee Stadium, but his headaches returned, accompanied by nausea, the next day.
He now admits he had symptoms during the game, though he felt fine beforehand. As Avila puts it now, he had a concussion.
"Honestly, I felt it during the game that I played a little bit," he said, "but being stubborn I wanted to stay in the game. I didn't say anything to [head athletic trainer] Kevin [Rand] or anybody, and then the next morning I felt it a little bit. When I started getting ready for the game hitting, then it started to get worse and I figured this is something I can't push through."
The team placed Avila on the seven-day concussion DL that afternoon and sent him home for rest. He was seen around the home clubhouse at Comerica Park for much of the next homestand but was limited to off-field workouts for several days before being cleared for baseball activity last week.
"What finally put me on the DL ... was I just got dizzy, headaches started to get a little more severe and a little bit of nausea," he said. "Basically I had to wait until all that went away, until I could actually start doing any activity. So that was just five or six days of being very lazy."
Avila joined Triple-A Toledo on a rehab assignment last week and caught three innings last Thursday before reporting more headaches. After returning to the Mud Hens' lineup for a game as designated hitter last Saturday, he spent the past two days catching seven innings apiece without any trouble.
He didn't take any foul tips off his mask during those games, he said, though he did take a first pitch off his arm. Avila still got enough activity that had been giving him headaches before.
"I'm good now," he said. "I haven't had any symptoms the last three games I played with Toledo, and I got pushed pretty good there -- a few hot days, running the bases a bunch. I felt good afterwards, so I'm pretty confident that I'm past that."
By rule, players on the seven-day DL are limited to five days on a rehab assignment. Since Avila was sidelined for more than two weeks, however, he was automatically transferred to the 15-day DL, which carries different rules.
Avila was the seventh of eight Major League catchers to land on the concussion DL this season, a list that includes American League Central counterparts Salvador Perez of Kansas City and Minnesota's Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit.
Avila draws more concern about head injuries than many catchers around the league because he seems to take so many foul tips off his body. He's returning with a different, heavier mask designed to reduce some of the impact from foul tips.
"The thing about that mask is when you get hit in the face, the bars will bend a little bit," he said. "You just have to re-bend them or get a new mask. There's a little more give there."
Avila's also getting a custom, bigger helmet that includes extra protection to absorb some impact, similar to a prototype Mauer had been using.
"Basically what it is, is a batting helmet without the earflaps," he said. "I've been trying some and they're making me one, and I'll probably be wearing that one as soon as I get it in."
To make room for Avila, the Tigers optioned catcher Bryan Holaday to Toledo. Holaday will rejoin the Tigers next week after the Mud Hens' season ends.