Ex-teammate AJ Pollock provides bit of payback in Dodgers’ loss to White Sox
On the field, the Dodgers and AJ Pollock had a cordial reunion Tuesday afternoon.
Ahead of his first game against the team since being traded to the Chicago White Sox at the end of spring training, Pollock lingered around the cage as the Dodgers took batting practice at Guaranteed Rate Field.
He chatted and laughed with former teammates and coaches. He spoke to Dave Roberts for several minutes, the manager keeping an arm draped around his former outfielder most of the time.
“AJ helped us win a championship,” Roberts said. “He’s very well liked in the clubhouse and organization. To trade him was tough for everyone.”
Behind the scenes, however, the Dodgers identified Pollock as a potential weakness in the White Sox lineup.
During his first season in Chicago, the 34-year-old has been inconsistent. He entered with a .216 batting average, three home runs and a .586 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. And while he wasn’t in the starting lineup, the Dodgers saw him as a potentially favorable matchup if he came to the plate against their bullpen.
“The way AJ’s swinging the bat,” Roberts said, “I just felt we could expand [the zone] on him.”
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In a scoreless game in the sixth inning, however, Pollock made his old club pay, hitting a two-run, pinch-hit double that keyed a decisive rally in the White Sox’s 4-0 win.
“It’s good to get a win against anyone, but yeah, that’s a good ballclub over there,” Pollock told reporters afterward. “I know that’s a tough team. A little extra special for sure.”
After starting pitchers Mitch White and Michael Kopech traded zeros for five innings — Kopech didn’t give up a hit to the Dodgers until the fourth; White didn’t allow a White Sox baserunner until the fifth — Pollock’s moment arose once Dodgers reliever Phil Bickford yielded two singles in the sixth.
Even with two outs and slumping left-handed hitter Gavin Sheets due up next, Roberts turned to left-hander David Price out of the bullpen. Roberts knew it probably would prompt White Sox manager Tony La Russa to send the right-handed-hitting Pollock to the plate. But given Pollock’s performance this season, Roberts still felt confident.
“We were talking about it before the game,” Roberts said, “and I just felt that AJ was a guy who hasn’t been swinging the bat well.”
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Price didn’t throw his first pitch very well. With catcher Will Smith set up on the inside corner, Price instead left a cutter over the outer edge of the plate. Pollock swung and lined it down the right field line. Both baserunners came racing around to score.
“We didn’t execute a pitch,” Roberts said. “And that’s what happens.”
The Dodgers (35-20) never recovered. Price gave up two more runs before the inning was over, marking the third straight game the bullpen has given up four runs. The lineup continued its own slump by getting shut out for only the second time this year. And the Dodgers opened a tricky six-game trip by losing their sixth of the last eight.
“It’s one of those stretches where obviously we’re not playing great,” said Justin Turner, who picked up his 1,000th hit as a Dodger on a night the team managed only five. “But I think we go through this all the time in baseball. It’s not gonna get easy for us. Everyone is playing their best baseball against us.”
Former Dodgers included.
The preseason trade of Pollock for closer Craig Kimbrel — who will miss this series after being placed on paternity leave — came down to fit for both sides. The Dodgers had a surplus of offensive talent but a gaping hole at the back of their bullpen. The White Sox (26-27) had a need in the outfield and were looking to offload Kimbrel. The deal gave both clubs better balance.
It didn’t take the sting out of Pollock’s departure, however.
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Though the outfielder battled injuries during three seasons with the Dodgers, after signing with the team as a free agent ahead of 2019, he was productive whenever he was on the field — he hit .282 with a .856 OPS in 258 games — and became a veteran leader off it.
He played a key role on the 2020 World Series championship team, then was one of the best performers last season, including the playoffs.
Tuesday, he showed he’s still reliable in the clutch, capping a day of friendly reunions with a moment of revenge.
“It was good,” Pollock said. “It’s always fun battling those guys.”
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