Express coach Johnson suffers scary injury

Former Major Leaguer out of hospital after being struck by liner

Howard Johnson served as manager of the Carolina League co-champion Down East Wood Ducks last season. (Down East Wood Ducks)

By Gerard Gilberto / | March 26, 2018 12:20 AM

Triple-A Round Rock hitting coach Howard Johnson was hit just below his left eye by a line drive off the bat of Cleveland Indians infielder Erik Gonzalez in the fourth inning of Saturday's Cactus League game against the Texas Rangers.

The game was delayed several minutes as the two-time Major League All-Star was attended to in the first-base dugout. He was carted off the field on a stretcher and taken to a Surprise, Arizona hospital. Johnson was examined by Dr. Jeffrey Edelstein, team opthamologist for the NHL's Arizona Coyotes, who confirmed Johnson suffered several fractures to his cheekbone but likely would not require surgery, according to a Rangers update Sunday. Edelstein also noted Johnson's eye function did not appear to be impaired.

Johnson was released from Del Webb Medical Center "and will undergo rest and continued evaluation at his residence in Arizona for a period of a week, when he will be re-examined by Dr. Edelstein," the Rangers said. He tweeted his appreciation Sunday night.

Last year, the 57-year-old served as manager for Class A Advanced Down East and helped guide the Wood Ducks to a share of the Mills Cup title as Carolina League co-champions.

Dominic Cotroneo, Wood Ducks director of broadcast and media relations, relayed a message from Johnson via Twitter Sunday morning that said, "I'm gonna be fine in a couple weeks. No surgery -- the fractures should heal without it."

Rangers manager Jeff Banister told reporters Saturday that Johnson was looking toward the pitcher when the ball "caught him pretty flush."

"Reports right now are generally positive," Banister said. "I'm sure there will be reports to follow and obviously our prayers are with him. HoJo is a tremendous guy and it's terrible when you see that in any situation, whether it's inside the dugout on the field or in the stands."

Offseason MiLB include

Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said Johnson was conscious and able to answer questions from medical staff.

"It was ugly," Andrus told "I don't think he was able to walk but hopefully nothing serious. He is part of the team, part of the family. When that happens, you are always going to get concerned. It was kind of scary."

Gonzalez ended up striking out against right-hander Keone Kela in the at-bat. He expressed some concern while talking with Indians manager Terry Francona and third base coach Mike Sarbaugh during the delay.

"When I hit the ball, I was looking at the dugout and I saw him, he was facing the field -- the other way," Gonzalez told "I felt a little frustrated in that moment right there. I [finished] the at-bat, but my mind wasn't in the moment at home plate, you know? I was thinking too much about him, what happened. I'm so sorry for that."

Johnson played 14 seasons in the Majors and won World Series championships with the Tigers in 1984 and the Mets in 1986.

"You talk about your heart in your throat," Francona said. "That was just awful, awful. It takes a while to keep playing the game. You're human. Man, that was scary."

Gerard Gilberto is a contributor to Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @GerardGilberto4. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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