When the Dodgers signed 32-year-old veteran outfielder A.J. Pollock to a lofty 4-year / $55 million free agent contract prior to the 2019 season, they were hoping that he would do for them what he used to do against them in his seven seasons with their division-rival Arizona Diamondbacks.
He did not.
Instead and despite his .266 batting average, he was pretty much a strikeout machine, posting 74 K’s in 308 at-bats (24.03%), usually in crucial situations and often with runners in scoring position.
But that ship has sailed.
Through the first six games of the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, the Hebron, CT native and D-backs first-round draft pick in 2009 out of the University of Notre Dame is the Dodgers best hitter, with a .471 batting average, a .526 on-base percentage, and a .824 slugging percentage for a current National League-best 1.350 OPS.
And that’s the second-best news in the life of A.J. Pollock.
During the MLB (and the world) shutdown for the coronavirus, Pollock’s wife Kate gave birth to their daughter Maddi Mae three months premature. In fact, it wasn’t until July 24th – 128 days after her birth – that the Pollocks finally got to bring Maddi Mae home from the hospital; but not before A.J tested positive for COVID-19, forcing him to miss the first two weeks of Spring Training-2 (aka Summer Camp), having refused to opt-out of the season when many (most) thought for sure that he would.
“Maybe it just got me to say, ‘look, keep it simple.’ I’ve got a lot of other stuff going on, so when I’m at the field, all this other stuff I used to do, just put that aside,” Pollock told reporters during a pre-game Zoom interview on Thursday. “It’s like a pickup game of basketball. You go up there and compete. I feel pretty good up there. I feel like I can compete against the pitcher and put up some good at-bats.”
Compete, he has. In his 19 plate appearances thus far, Pollock has two doubles, one home run (on Thursday night against his former team), and two RBI. And though he has struck out four times in his 17 official at-bats (23.53%), he has also walked twice.
“A.J.’s done great,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after Thursday’s 6-3 win. “I don’t know how he’s been able to compartmentalize what’s going on in his life; his baby, getting to take her home finally to Arizona with his wife, and get the baby home, and come back, and to kinda not miss a beat, it’s remarkable. And A.J.’s a guy who just does everything right, so it’s really good to see him get off to a good start.”
“It’s awesome,” Dodgers right-hander Ross Stripling said of Pollock’s performance thus far in the early season following Thursday night’s game. “I mean, my gosh, our line-up is so stacked and you think about A.J. Pollock there hitting toward the bottom end of the line-up is just incredible; like how good he was when he was here as a Diamondback, and then to have kind of a goofy year last year with the infection that he had and miss multiple months, and then now be able to come back this year and get off to a great start after a stressful quarantine, having a baby in 20 weeks, it’s awesome.
“A.J.’s such a good dude, such a good locker room guy, and someone we love having around,” added Stripling. So to see him living up to what we’re used to seeing is definitely front seat.”
If Pollock can continue to do for the Dodgers what he used to do against them and helps bring a World Championship back to LA, that $55 million will be worth every penny of it.