CHICAGO – White Sox relief pitcher Evan Marshall remembers everything about the line drive that struck him in the head.
“The pitch,” Marshall said. “The sound.”
In a minor league game between the Reno Aces and the El Paso Chihuahuas on Aug. 4, 2015, a line drive hurtling an estimated 105 mph connected with the side of Marshall’s head.
“I wish I didn’t remember any of that, but I do,” Marshall said.
Marshall was a relief pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. He had pitched in 57 big-league games with Arizona in 2014 and 13 in 2015 before he was sent to Triple-A midway through the 2015 season.
Marshall remembers everything about the line drive and its aftermath until the ambulance was about halfway to the hospital. Then there’s about a 48-hour gap in his memory. He woke up in the hospital surrounded by his family.
About four years later, the 29-year-old Marshall is playing with his fourth team in four years, but he knows he’s lucky to be pitching at all – and lucky to be alive.
“Still flashbacks, nightmares,” Marshall said. “All the PTSD stuff you’d expect. I’m just in a better place. Time, ultimately, has been the best healer for that.”
The diagnosis wasn’t pretty: Marshall had multiple skull fractures. He needed surgery to alleviate the swelling in his brain the night he suffered the injury. Doctors weren’t sure if he was going to make it through the night.
The surgery went well, but initially, progress was slow. He couldn’t walk at first, and everything was back to square one.
Once his concussion symptoms subsided, he progressed more quickly. He was released from the hospital about two weeks after the incident, but that was far from the end of his recovery.
“Ultimately, the fractures had to heal and the hematoma had to be reabsorbed,” Marshall said. “All the little brain injury things. They kept me from getting my heart rate up for quite a while, because they thought that my concussion symptoms would come back so bad that I’d fall on my face or something.”
Doctors at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix held Marshall to a higher standard with his mental tests and, eventually, physical workouts because he was a professional athlete.
Marshall returned to spring training in 2016 with the Diamondbacks, and he was “a nervous wreck,” the first time taking the mound. He did return to the big leagues in 2016, but in 15 appearances his ERA ballooned to 8.80.
Although he pitched through 2016 and 2017, Marshall said he still wasn’t quite on top of his game.
“I probably lost two years of my career just dealing with that, where I just scuffled around not really competing out there,” Marshall said. “I was just out there.”
He pitched for the Seattle Mariners in 2017 and the Cleveland Indians in 2018 before signing a minor league deal with the Sox before 2019. Marshall bounced between Triple-A and the big leagues in all three of those seasons.
Last year when he was called up to Cleveland, he joined a loaded bullpen and saw limited chances to pitch. Marshall said it was hard to stay sharp pitching “once every 10th day.”
The Sox called Marshall up May 1 and he has thrown 72/3 scoreless innings in seven appearances through Tuesday. He had thrown 10 scoreless innings in Triple-A Charlotte before being recalled.
“I’m just making quality pitches right now,” Marshall said. “Working ahead in counts, getting quick contact and making it through innings in fewer pitches, keeping me feeling fresh for the next day.”