Right-hander Daniel Poncedeleon was drafted in the ninth round of the 2014 MLB Draft, and quickly rose through the club’s minor league system. The Memphis Redbirds opened the 2017 season with one of the St. Louis Cardinals‘ top prospects in the Redbirds pitching rotation. Poncedeleon’s 2017 season ended after only one month.
The man who took a line drive to his head 14 months before made his MLB debut on July 23, 2018, and he threw a no-hitter before being pulled after seven innings.
On May 9, 2017, after starting the minor league season with Triple-A Memphis 2-0 with 25 strikeouts in 29 innings, Poncedeleon’s life changed forever when a comeback line-drive struck him on the right temple.
The video of the incident is below. Be warned: it’s not easy to watch.
Only 25 years old at the time, Poncedeleon was rushed to an Intensive Care Unit in Iowa, where he underwent emergency brain surgery to relieve pressure on his skull from the impact of the line drive.
He remained in ICU for three weeks before being released.
Only three months after the emergency surgery, Poncedeleon was cleared to return to baseball.
During his first live batting practice session since the injury later that summer, Poncedeleon had one clear message for the hitters facing him that day.
“Swing as hard as you can,” Poncedeleon told them. “Don’t be scared to hit me.”
Without a doubt in his mind, Poncedeleon returned for the start of the 2018 season and set fire to the Pacific Coast League.
The 26-year-old went on a tear, starting the season 9-3 with a 2.15 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 18 appearances. On July 11, Poncedeleon struck out all three batters he faced at the Triple-A All-Star game.
With the St. Louis Cardinals struggling to find their rhythm in the second half of the 2018 season, they made the decision to call up Poncedeleon for the first start of his career.
And boy, did he prove to the world just how far he’s come.
In his MLB debut Monday night, Poncedeleon brought everything full circle throwing seven no-hit innings and striking out three batters. With his pitch count reaching 116, Poncedeleon was replaced by Jordan Hicks, who surrendered the no-hitter by way of a Phillip Ervin single in the eighth inning.
He didn’t get the win in the game, though; the Cardinals ultimately fell to the Cincinnati Reds 2-1 on a walk-off single in the ninth inning as Bud Norris blew his third save of the year.
Poncedeleon is the fifth pitcher to have a no-hitter in the seventh inning or later of his MLB debut in the Expansion Era of professional baseball.
Regardless of the outcome, Poncedeleon earned the moral win in his major league debut for everyone working to comeback from a life-altering injury.
From his first days with the low-A affiliate State College Spikes to his first MLB start, Poncedeleon is proving that faith and hard work are the tools to his success.
The Cardinals return home to Busch Stadium to take on the Chicago Cubs for a weekend series, so expect to see Poncedeleon’s trot to mound in front of the home town fans to be met with a roar of applause.