Gibson: Pollock may fit at No. 3 spot
DENVER — The Diamondbacks broke camp in 2013 with a lineup they liked, but that did not last long. After No. 3 hitter Aaron Hill suffered a fractured hand two weeks into the season, Paul Goldschmidt inherited that role, and he rode it all the way to an All-Star berth and an MVP-caliber season.
As unusual as it might seem, another fractured hand — Goldschmidt’s injury almost seven weeks ago — could cause another reshuffling.
Goldschmidt was the most productive No. 3 hitter in the league last year, and you could look it up.
At the same time, A.J. Pollock’s continued advancement this season has been so compelling that it has the D-backs considering options in 2015, even as Goldschmidt is expected to have no issues in returning from a fractured metacarpal that has sidelined him since Aug. 2.
"That is a really good topic," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said Friday. "I wouldn’t be the only guy to weigh in on that."
Goldschmidt hit third again this season — and he did it well — until he was KO’d by a pitch from Pittsburgh right-hander Ernesto Frieri. Goldschmidt is slashing .300/.396/.542 and ranks second in the league in OPS, although he will fall off the leader board in the final week of the season because he will finish with 479 plate appearances, 23 short of qualifying for that statistic. He remains tied for third in the league with 39 doubles, and that will not go away.
Pollock is hitting .311 with 31 extra-base hits in 66 games while missing three months with a fractured hand, and his combination of speed and ability to drive the ball are, as in Goldschmidt’s case, characteristics that a manager looks for in a No. 3 hitter.
With David Peralta sidelined with a back injury, Pollock has impressed Gibson while hitting third in the last seven games. Pollock has eight hits, including two triples and a home run, seven RBI and a stolen base in that span, and he also has stolen two runs with aggressive base running.
"It’s kind of an interesting spot where he is right now," Gibson said. "He’s got sock. He’s impacting the baseball really well for us, really all year. … You’ve seen him evolve as a hitter. Much better hitter. He runs well. He’s starting to drive in some runs. So he’s certainly interesting where he is at right now.
"I mean, how much better is he going to get? He may not be out of place if he continues to develop."
Pollock will leave all that up to the manager.
"It’s a great spot in the order. I have no preference. Whatever role he puts me in, I try to be the best in it," Pollock said. "If you are hitting the ball well, I think it plays anywhere in the order. That’s what I’ll concentrate on, just getting better and better as an all-around hitter. If he sees that as a good fit for the three spot, great. If not, I’ll hit somewhere else in the order and do it as well as I can."
Pollock had just come into his own as a leadoff hitter when he was hit by a pitch from Johnny Cueto on May 31. In 17 games there, he slashed .324/.400/.624 with 16 extra-base hits and four stolen bases. It looked like a perfect fit for a team, a definite upgrade in speed from Gerardo Parra, who hit first in the order for most of the last two seasons.
But Gibson also has liked the way Ender Inciarte and Chris Owings have hit in the 1-2 slots recently. They rank with Pollock as the team’s three fastest players and the greatest base-stealing threats. Inciarte has 16 stolen bases in 109 games and has been caught three times. Owings is 8-for-9. Pollock is 12-for-14.
"I think there is flexibility there," Gibson said. "Those guys up there now (Inciarte and Owings), we have a lot of speed at the top of the order. Try to get those guys on. They are some of our better hitters now, too. I want to get them up there and get them up as much as I can."
Many teams bat their best hitter third in the order to make sure he bats in the first inning. The D-backs did that with Luis Gonzalez. Tony La Russa did it with Albert Pujols. Barry Bonds spent his best years there.
If Pollock and Goldschmidt were 2-3, Goldschmidt always would bat in the first inning. If Goldschmidt hit fourth, he would be called on to either continue a rally in the first or start one in the second.
"I think it is a good discussion. You can make a case for and against it, I guess," Gibson said.
"Overall, it makes sense to have guys who can put pressure on the pitcher on the bases to impact the pitch selection to your power hitters. It would make sense. If (pitchers) are going to go to a lot of off-speed pitches, (runners) could (steal) a base and get in better position."
If Pollock and Goldschmidt hit 3-4, that would likely put three right-handed bats together, possibly four if Mark Trumbo, and not Miguel Montero, hits behind Goldschmidt.
"The other thing is, if you have a lefty and three righties, I don’t know if that is ideal," Gibson said. "And if you get into the metrics of it, and they do this with lineups against any given pitcher, the lineup could be different. Be open to that as well."
Tony La Russa accepted a check from Avoderm Natural Pet Food and Nylabone pet supply company on behalf of ARF, the Animal Relief Foundation that he founded in 1990, before the game at the Rockies’ bark-in-the-park event. La Russa was inspired to start ARF when a stray cat found its way onto the field at Yankee Stadium as La Russa’s Oakland A’s played the Yankees. La Russa shepherded the cat into the Oakland dugout, and later found it a home after learning that the cat was to be euthanized.
74 — Strikes Vidal Nuno threw among his 98 pitches.
*Daniel Hudson will be shut down for the rest of the season, Kirk Gibson said, after making three major league appearances since being activated Sept. 1. "We like what we see. He has accomplished everything we wanted him to accomplish this year. We just thought, Why have him go on?’" Gibson said. Hudson, back on a major league mound for the first since June 26, 2012, following two Tommy John surgeries, gave up four hits and four runs in 2 2/3 innings. He hit 96 mph on the radar gun in his one appearance at Chase Field, struck out two and had no walks. The plan is for him to work out of the bullpen next year.
*Stop us if you have heard this before — Vidal Nuno deserved better. Nuno gave up three runs and struck out seven in 5 1/3 innings, but the bullpen could not hold his 6-3 lead. Nuno finally got some offense, but Colorado catcher Wilin Rosario’s walk-off homer off Addison Reed marked the fifth failed save conversion in his 13 starts. He is 0-6 with seven quality starts and a 3.78 ERA. "It’s what it is," Nuno said. "I just try to do what I do, stay focused. Wins don’t come easy down here (Colorado). Got one more start, and try to finish strong."
*Mark Trumbo was given a day off after leaving Wednesday’s game in the top of the ninth inning with back spasms. Trumbo took batting practice. "I think he is going to be OK. He needed an off day, anyway," Gibson said. Trumbo had played in 47 straight games.
*David Peralta could return Friday or Saturday, Gibson indicated. He has not played since Sept. 5 because of back tightness.
The Diamondbacks lost their Class A Midwest League affiliate in South Bend, Ind., to the Chicago Cubs, who wield a big stick as a national brand and are especially big in northern Indiana. Many Notre Dame grads live in the Chicago area, as the parade to South Bend on college football Saturdays attests. The D-backs could land in the Cubs’ old home, Kane County in Illinois. The D-backs’ affiliation agreement with Double-A Mobile also expired this week, but the D-backs will stay.