Pundits like to point to several factors for the Diamondbacks recent success. Yet, the major consideration for Arizona inching closer to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West division race is the meteoric development of centerfielder A. J. Pollock.
In recent weeks, Pollock has emerged as the principal catalyst for Arizona’s thrust for post-season placement. As an under-rated fielder, Pollock’s speed and intelligent reading of the ball off the bat has help move him into among the elite in his position. Yet, it’s been Pollock’s bat, speed and acumen on the bases which fueled his growing importance to the Diamondbacks.
By virtue of hitting .483 last week, the 27-year-old native of Marlborough, Conn. was named the National League player-of-the-week, and that included three doubles, a triple, one home run, four RBIs and eight runs scored. Though given the day off Sunday in the getaway game at Cincinnati by manager Chip Hale, Pollock went 11-for-15 (.733) for the other three games in the Reds series.
For his part, Pollock’s hot streak is no different than other time at the plate, he indicated. In the marathon which is the baseball season, he pointed out that the up and down, and ebb and flow for a player is the same for his team.
“In this game, things can turn around very quickly,” he said in the clubhouse prior Monday’s home game with St. Louis. “I always had confidence in myself and stay within my abilities. Keep it simple, and don’t try and do too much.”
Pollock’s numbers seem to fit preciously into what Hale wants to do with his baseball team. Hale preaches an aggressive brand of the game, and usually sets runners off to untold destinations. That appears to be the case for Pollock. That’s because he is the first player his season in the majors to hit 30 doubles and steal 30 bases.
“(Pollock) is such a good athlete and he is so well prepared,” Hale said. “He’s very dynamic, but what he’s doing also has to do with match-ups. We try and put players in the right position to succeed.”
Coming into Monday’s critical four-game series with the Cardinals, whom many call the best team in baseball, Pollock’s numbers are staggering. He is leading the league in runs scored, second in hits, tied for second in multi-hit games, tied for third in doubles, tied for third in stolen bases and fourth in average. Plus, he has been successful, coming into Monday’s game, in stealing 14 straight bases.
There is no argument as to his value and contribution. Named to the National All-Star game last month in Cincinnati, Pollock translated the trust and confidence into a principal catalyst for this run at the division title.
“The goal of all players to play meaningful games at this part of the season,” he said. “Yeah, I look at the standings, but you can’t control what you can’t control. Look, you do your best and play the game the right way.”
Coming into play Monday, the Diamondbacks were five games behind the Dodgers and winners of nine of their previous 14 games. Their surge clearly caught an opponent’s attention.
“Several players over there are having great seasons,” Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny said before Monday’s game. “They have speed, power, the pitching is coming along and everything’s in place for a good, strong push.”
In searching to give his starters more rest, manager chip Hale altered his rotation. Originally, Robbie Ray was scheduled to start Monday game against St. Louis, but Hale pushed Ray, and his starters, back one day.
Prior to Monday’s game, the Diamondbacks solved this situation of a breather when they called up veteran right-hander Jhoulys Chacin from Triple-A Reno. To make room, pitcher Zack Godley was returned to Reno.
With six years in the majors with Colorado, Chacin made his first Arizona start against the Cardinals Monday night. That was after a combined 6-6, 3.33 ERA, seven starts with Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate Columbus and 12 starts with Reno. Signed to a minor league contract by the Rockies in 2004, Chacin has a 38-48 major league record with a 3.78 ERA.
The issue, Hale pointed out, was innings. The Diamondbacks are reluctant to run Godley out for extended innings and thus turned to Chacin, who has more major league experience in light of facing St. Louis, the team with the best record in the game.
“(Chacin) earned the start here,” Hale said before Monday’s game. “He’s pitched well at Reno, and I’m excited to see him.”
Moving Chacin into the Monday start means starters get an extra day of rest. That amends the rotation for the Cardinals series. Now, Ray goes Tuesday night, Patrick Corbin on Wednesday night and Rubby De La Rosa is slated for Thursday night.