The Dodgers signed A.J. Pollock in January for as many as five years envisioning him as their everyday center fielder in 2019 and beyond. They wanted a consistent presence at the position, another right-handed bat, and to move Cody Bellinger to right field, where the wear and tear is reduced. That plan took a detour this week.
On Monday, Pollock was penciled into the starting lineup in a position besides center field for the first time as a Dodger. He played left field, and he was back there again Tuesday. Pollock said manager Dave Roberts notified him of the decision before the Dodgers arrived for their six-game homestand.
The reasoning, he was told, is to give him chance to become acquainted with left field because the team could begin using Bellinger, who boasts better range, in center field more frequently. The Dodgers also will have Alex Verdugo as an option when he comes off the injured list next week. Verdugo has started 52 games in center this season, boasting plus range and throwing strength for the position. He also has started 14 games in left and 16 in right.
Until Monday, Pollock hadn’t started a game in left field since 2014.
“I’ve seen how Belli moves and that guy is a stud outfielder,” Pollock said. “If that’s the best defense they think they could put out there, then I’ll be all for it.”
The 31-year-old’s Pollock first season in Los Angeles has been uneven. An elbow infection, which cost him six weeks, and a recent nagging groin injury complicated matters. His offensive production since returning from the elbow infection in mid-July has held steady. Entering Tuesday, he was batting. 293 with eight home runs and an .888 on-base-plus-slugging percentage over his last 40 games.
His defense, however, was affected by the groin ailment, which surfaced last month and limited his range. Combined with troubles in center field earlier in the season, advanced metrics indicate Pollock has been one of baseball’s worst center fielders. His minus-8 defensive runs saved, for example, ranked 28th out of 30 players with at least 500 innings logged at the position, according to FanGraphs.
“I feel good. I feel healthy finally,” Pollock said. “Honestly, this is probably the best I’ve felt running all year. It’s probably a lot of the work we did, me and the trainers and strength coaches. A lot of that stuff really helped me. I feel like myself again running.”
Still, the Dodgers are committed to him at least getting acquainted with left field. There are differences — less room to cover, another wall to worry about, a different spin on batted balls — and he’ll have time to adjust.
“They just want to give me some reps out there to get comfortable,” Pollock said, “and if we’re going to go that route, we‘re going to go that route.”
May to face hitters
Dustin May will face hitters at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday for the first time since getting hit in the head by a 92-mph line drive Sunday against Arizona. Roberts said May passed all concussion tests.
The 21-year-old right-hander made his major-league debut last month. He’s posted a 5.11 earned-run average in six appearance, including two out of the bullpen, as he auditions for a postseason role.
“Dustin feels good,” Roberts said. “He felt he could have kept going out there and pitching, which is a good thing for him. Shows his [desire to] compete. Just the right thing to do to make sure we check all the boxes.”
Barnes will be final call-up
Roberts said catcher Austin Barnes will be the final September call-up from triple-A Oklahoma City when he returns Friday. The decision leaves out a few candidates for promotion on the 40-man roster, including outfielder Kyle Garlick and infielder Edwin Rios.
“Kyle and Eddie are just tremendous teammates, guys,” Roberts said. “But I think we’re very cognizant of keeping the group to as much of a minimum as possible, keep the focus on the playoffs. Sometimes, unfortunately, there’s some casualties. But I can’t say enough about Kyle, Eddie and what they did for us.”
Both Rios and Garlick made their debuts this season. Garlick, 27, hit .250 with an .842 OPS in 30 games for Los Angeles. He batted .314 with 23 home runs and a 1.057 OPS in 81 games with Oklahoma City. The 25-year-old Rios went 10 for 35 with two home runs and five extra-base hits in 17 games with the Dodgers. He belted 31 home runs with a .915 OPS in 104 games in triple A.
Barnes must wait 10 days since his last major league stint to return. Barnes was optioned to Oklahoma City on Aug. 27 after replacing Russell Martin for three days while he was on the bereavement list.
Chris Taylor fouled a ball off his left foot Monday during his two-homer performance and wasn’t available Tuesday. Joc Pederson, who also homered twice, was available off the bench after leaving Monday’s game when he crashed into the right field wall making a catch. . . . Rookie catcher Will Smith, mired in his deepest slump as a big leaguer, was given Tuesday off. He is five for 29 with one extra-base hit and 12 strikeouts over his last 10 games.