SACBEE.com -- Santo Manzanillo realizes he is lucky to be alive, much less throwing a baseball pain-free in the Milwaukee Brewers' spring camp.
One of the top pitching prospects in the organization, Manzanillo was driving from his home in La Romana in the Dominican Republic to the Brewers' new baseball academy in San Pedro de Macoris late last November when a truck cut him off on the rural highway.
Manzanillo swerved his Hummer sharply to avoid a collision but the vehicle went into a ditch and rolled several times, ejecting him through the sun roof - a result that often leads to death or maiming.
"God was looking out for me," said the 23-year-old right-hander. "I could have been killed. I didn't wear my seat belt."
When Manzanillo regained his senses, he knew something was wrong with his shoulder and right side. His young, budding career flashed before his eyes, and he couldn't help wondering if he'd throw a baseball again.
"I couldn't breathe," he said. "That's what scared me. I was hurting on my side.
"I was feeling very bad; I couldn't move my arm. I first thought, 'I'm not going to play any more baseball because I felt like I was going to die.' "
Passers-by helped him to a medical facility, where the diagnosis provided some relief. Beyond facial lacerations and other scrapes and bruises, he escaped with a sprained right shoulder. He was told there would be no pitching for eight weeks but his career would not be jeopardized.
Adding insult to injury, not-so-friendly passers-by looted his damaged vehicle while Manzanillo was being treated, taking $300 in cash, all of his baseball equipment, his wallet and cellphone. That mattered little, however, once doctors told him he escaped major injury.
"I can buy another car but I can't buy another life," he said.
On an even better note, Manzanillo is far ahead of his original rehab schedule this spring. The Brewers originally thought he would miss most if not all of camp, then be behind at the start of the season.
Instead, Manzanillo has been throwing regular bullpen sessions since the start of camp, though he has not been allowed to face hitters yet. He still hopes to be able to pitch in games in his first big-league camp.
"I'm feeling pretty good," he said. "I've been working hard to get back to pitching. I wasn't sure how it was going to feel. I'm getting closer. I'm almost ready to pitch again but the team wants to take it slow."
The Brewers aren't going to gamble at this stage with Manzanillo's future, not after the breakthrough 2011 season that rocketed him toward the top of the organization's prospect list. He began the season with high Class A Brevard County, posting a 1-0 record, 1.52 earned run average and 10 saves in 28 relief appearances, with 43 strikeouts in 411/3 innings.
That performance earned Manzanillo a promotion to Class AA Huntsville, where he went 0-1 with a 2.21 ERA in 20 outings, with seven saves and 19 strikeouts in 201/3 innings.
During one game at Brevard in which Brewers general manager Doug Melvin was in attendance, Manzanillo's fastball was clocked numerous times at 100 mph. Nothing like showing off for the boss.
In general, Manzanillo consistently throws in the mid- to high 90s, with an electric slider.
"There were times last year where he would strike out the side on 11 pitches and they just had no chance," said Fred Dabney, the pitching coach at Brevard last year who is moving up to Class AAA Nashville this season.
"Beyond the fastball, he has that slider and he has a good 'split' (split-finger fastball), too. It's getting more consistent. He's got tremendous makeup. He's aggressive, a high-energy type guy. He's just a great guy."
Those who have seen Manzanillo since he entered the organization in 2006 at age 17 have been amazed at his transformation from a thrower who had no idea where the ball was going. Incredibly, he walked 47 hitters that year in only 161/3 innings with the rookie Arizona club.
Dabney, who also helped Brewers closer John Axford harness his command in the minors, deserves much of the credit for getting Manzanillo on track. He was leading with his upper half and dragging his arm behind in his delivery, throwing off his rhythm and timing.
Once Dabney helped Manzanillo make that adjustment, hitters started having little chance.
"To his credit, every day in the bullpen he worked on it and worked on it, day in and day out," said Dabney. "He got to the point where he was comfortable with it and understood it. He was able to get his arm in the right throwing position. After that, he was off and running with a real feel for his fastball.
"Obviously, people are really impressed with how far he has come and everything he has gone through, with this car accident. He had a guardian angel looking out for him. I'm so glad that he's safe and OK and doesn't seem to have any effects from it. He's an awesome kid."
Manzanillo understands why the Brewers have been cautious with him this spring but is champing at the bit to get into a game.
"I'm just working very hard every day," he said. "I've been trying to be a better pitcher.
"I think if I work hard I will make it to the major leagues one day. That's what I want to do. I thank God that I am still alive and play the game I love."
Reds third baseman Juan Francisco was robbed at gunpoint on Tuesday in his native Dominican Republic. Four individuals wearing vests with police logos stopped the Cadillac vehicle he was driving with a friend. Both men did what they were told by the gunmen and surrendered their belongings, which had an estimated value of $10,000 U.S.......
Thieves and assailants are now using eggs mixed with water to carry out robberies and assaults on cars and trucks. Their tactic, generally employed at night, is to throw eggs at a vehicle’s windshield, and when the driver’s near-automatic reflex of engaging the wipers produces an opaque mess, the driver is forced to stop in order to clean the mess, and the assailants make their move......
DominicanWatchdog Note: Accidents and robberies don't only happen to rich Dominican's. Tourists should be very careful in the DR traffic as most drive like they don't have a lisence. Further more do not stop for police on dark roads at night!!