In case you had given up on last night’s game - I know I did - A.J. Pollock was removed from the game in the ninth inning, after diving to try and catch a ball in the outfield, jarring his left hand. The initial diagnosis was a sprained left thumb, which gave some hope that he’d be out of action for a relatively short time. But Torey Lovullo told Arizona Sports Pollock would get an opinion from a hand specialist this afternoon. This is never a good thing: it immediately suggests the issue is more serious, and could potentially need more treatment than simple rest. We should know more later: surgery could be necessary for A.J., and certainly, a lengthy absence + rehab seems inevitable.
The team will now be bracing itself for any resulting extended period of life without the man who was the Diamondbacks’ MVP over the first seven weeks of the season. In terms of replacement options, Socrates Brito was probably the most obvious direct alternative in CF, but the team has opted to go with Christian Walker instead. He will provide superior offense, and can also play left-field, where he has made 100 minor-league starts. But his promotion requires someone to man CF. Chris Owings and Jarrod Dyson will probably form a platoon there. Steven Souza played the position last night after Pollock’s exit, but has limited experience, having made only four major-league starts in center.
Speaking of Souza, there’s a sense of deja vu here, since he was injured in similar circumstances on March 21, diving for a ball in the outfield. However, it was the right pectoral muscle which was the affected body part in that case, and Souza ended up missing about six weeks, eventually making his Diamondbacks’ debut on May 3. That was in a spring training game, and now we see Pollock being hurt in what some have described as a similarly “meaningless” effort, with the D-backs down by three in the ninth inning. It’s very hard to criticize someone for trying too hard, but the costs of Pollock’s dive certainly will outweigh any potential benefits.
For A.J.’s extended absence will definitely hurt the Diamondbacks. It likely negates entirely, if not more, the expected benefit from the imminent return of Jake Lamb, who is currently on a rehab assignment. With the offense already struggling horribly (Arizona is collectively batting below the Uecker Line over its 13 games in May, at .199 with a .583 OPS), the team needs its other hitters to step up. That particularly applies to the ones whose production has been less than expected: Souza, Paul Goldschmidt, Alex Avila, Owings, Ketel Marte. There’s a LOT of room for improvement there. It needs to show up, with the slack Pollock provided now gone.
This injury continues Pollock’s lousy luck with health. Over the five years from 2013-17, when he can be considered a regular outfielder, he has averaged fewer than 100 appearances per season, with just one year (2015) where he has reached 140 games. In 2014, A.J. missed three months, his right hand getting broken by a pitch from Johnny Cueto. He managed only 12 games in 2016, following a fractured elbow, suffered while sliding into home-plate in a pre-season exhibition at Chase Field. Last season, Pollock was on the DL from May 15 through July 4, due to a groin strain.
As well as highly unfortunate for the team, this is a setback for a player in his contract year. Some were suggesting he’d be behind only Bryce Harper among free-agent outfielders, after being voted National League Player of the Month for April. But this will only add to the narrative that Pollock is unable to stay healthy, even if this is perhaps unfair - most of his missed time is due to traumatic injuries of one kind or another. He’ll need to come back and prove his health all over again, if A.J. is to cash in his free-agent jackpot slip.