Hottest hitter in baseball? Pollock just trusting the process
MAY 22, 2014 2:33p ET
PHOENIX -- A.J. Pollock has reached the tip-of-the-cap stage of his career. It is a good sign, an indication of a player who has found his sweet spot and isn't being swayed by whimsy or the ill effects of the previous at-bat.
"It messes with your mind, baseball," Pollock said. "You have so many elements that you don't have control over. It is very hard to accept that and not have success for four, five, whatever amount of at-bats it is. You have to come back and keep doing it.
"The pitchers are going to start pitching you tough. There are days where the pitcher spots everything up and you have to tip your cap and not change what you are doing. That is the hardest thing. When you are going well is when you are tipping your cap more. The pitcher made a good pitch and you don't worry about it. I think I have been pretty good lately that if there is a good pitcher out there and you have some tough at-bats, move on."
"The hardest part when you have that good approach is not getting away from it."
It is a temptation to which the young are particularly susceptible, but even in his second full season, Pollock has been able to apply the concept with positive results.
Pollock is hitting .388 in May, combining power, speed and glove. The National League noticed, naming him the player of the week for the week ending May 18, when he had 11 hits in 18 at-bats, hit two home runs and stole a base.
He put a punctuation mark on his big week with one of the most remarkable catches of the season, running to the fence in left-center field to take a double away from Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. The ball popped out of Pollock's glove as he hit the fence, but he caught it again as he was falling down for the out. It was a spectacular display of speed and hand-eye coordination.
Pollock is the Diamondbacks' best defensive center fielder since perhaps Steve Finley, and it showed on that play. The fans in St. Louis agreed, giving him a standing ovation.
"It was a cool play," Pollock told reporters afterward.
It was all part of a cool month in which Pollock has settled in after missing time early in the season with a sore neck and a tight groin. Pollock returned to the lineup May 4 and has not been out since. He has all six of his stolen bases in the last 13 games, half the number he had in his rookie season of 2013, when he entered the lineup after spring training injuries to Cody Ross and Adam Eaton and seldom left it. He is hitting .304, 16th in the league, and is 14th in the league with an .873 OPS, eighth among NL outfielders. He has five home runs this season, three short of his 2013 total.
"Just maturing," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said of Pollock's strides. "Starting to trust things that he is seeing and learning. He's advancing as a major league hitter. He has really good stroke -- the ball jumps off his bat when he gives himself a chance. He has good wheels. He plays good outfield. He's a damn good player.
"A lot of it is about the game not getting too fast for you. If you can find a way to stay relaxed and let the ball come to you and use your hands and have a short stroke to the ball, you can sit later. The longer you wait, the more you can recognize. If the stroke is short, you can get to the ball. If you are charging at the ball, your swing is longer and you don't have good results. There's a time to attack; there's a time not to."
Pollock showed signs last season, when he was second among major league rookies with 28 doubles and 12 stolen bases and fourth in WAR, behind only the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig, the Rockies' Nolan Arenado and the Mets' Juan Lagares. Pollock also had three assists from center field, one more than Gold Glover Gerardo Parra from right.
“He's advancing as a major league hitter. He has really good stroke -- the ball jumps off his bat when he gives himself a chance. He has good wheels. He plays good outfield. He's a damn good player.”
Gibson believes in putting pressure on opposing defenses, and stealing bases is one way to do it. Pollock and shortstop Chris Owings are his greatest stolen-base threats, and they plan to keep running.
"It's kind of a priority to do it," Pollock said. "It changes the game a little bit. Pitchers have to deal with you, and maybe you give one of the hitters a good pitch to hit just because they are concentrating on you more than the batter. Even if you are not stealing bases, the threat of the stolen base actually influences the game quite a bit. There is never the perfect time is what I'm realizing, so you can't always wait for that perfect time.
"You want to be smart when you are going."
Sort of like finding a reliable approach at the plate and sticking with it.
"Really hard to do, (but) it's the right way," Pollock said.
"It's just kind of a matter of learning and knowing how to relax and trusting the process. I've heard (Dodgers first baseman) Adrian Gonzalez say, 'Trust the process.' You don't worry about results, just know that in the long term that this is the right approach and you will have success if you do this for a long time."
So far, so good.