DENVER -- Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba has looked a little different behind the plate since his return from the concussion that cost him eight games last month.
Rockies head athletic trainer Keith Dugger convinced Torrealba not to wear his state-of-the-art mask with silver titanium bars and lightweight padding. Instead, he is wearing one of fellow catcher Wilin Rosario's masks -- with the company logo covered, since Torrealba has an equipment deal with another company. The purple bars are old-fashioned steel, and the padding is heavier.
Dugger and Torrealba are operating under a theory that the titanium mask might have been too strong and too light. The bars are so strong, the theory goes, that there is no give, which means all the impact is transferred to the catcher's face, and the padding isn't enough to cushion the catcher's face.
There was a recent run of head trauma injuries to catchers, many occurring as Torrealba's did, on a foul tip. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported this week that Twins catcher Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit were wearing titanium masks when they suffered concussions, and at least three other injured catchers were wearing the material. Torrealba was one of them.
Torrealba said it will take some time to get used to the old-time mask.
"Honestly, I don't really know," Torrealba said. "The titanium, I like it. It's light and I see a lot of players using it. But I might be one of the cases where the mask was too strong. But I don't know that."
Dugger said some of the steel masks would bend on dramatic impact. Not only could the bending help cushion the blow, it could be a warning that the bars are worn and must be changed. Titanium, he said, doesn't show wear that way. It just breaks eventually.
Neither Torrealba nor Rosario wear the hockey-style mask that many catchers wear -- one that's required at the high school level. Both catchers and Dugger like the idea of the stand-alone mask over a helmet, because the mask usually shakes loose from the skull at impact. But in Torrealba's case, the mask stayed put, which made the blow more blunt.
"Yes, the titanium can take more force, but that force has to be transferred somewhere else," Dugger said. "I'm not saying it's bad. I'm sure they have tests that show it's safer and better. What I'm saying is based on observation, not 100 perent science.
"But even some of the older umpires, they feel like the force is a little stronger because there's no give. But I will say one thing: Those titanium masks last longer."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.