SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale discusses the Nationals’ hot streak, if they can compete with the Yankees, and how much trouble the Dodgers are in.
USA TODAY Sports
PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks, who just a week ago were riding high with the finest record in the National League, suddenly can’t buy a win, and now must find a way to turn around their fate without their finest player this season.
Center fielder A.J. Pollock, who was having a monster season towards a huge payday in free agency, was diagnosed Tuesday with a fractured left thumb after making a diving attempt at a ninth-inning catch Monday night.
He will be out at least four weeks, the Diamondbacks say, but likely closer to eight weeks.
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And the D-backs, who just broke a season-long six-game losing streak with a 2-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, will somehow have to find a way to stay alive in the NL West without him.
“It’s tough to lose anybody, but A.J., the way he was playing,’’ D-backs GM Mike Hazen said, “is a pretty big blow. You can’t feel sorry for us. We’ve got to pick up and move on. We feel bad for A.J. He was having a great season and he’ll be back to continue that at some point.
“But in the interim, we’re going to have to figure out how to put the pieces together to cover for him, that spot, and win games.’’
The Diamondbacks won’t pursue an outside trade Hazen said, instead relying on Chris Owings and Jarrod Dyson to man center field. Perhaps in a month there will be outfielders available on the trade market, but not now, Hazen said, calling it “unrealistic.’’
“I think at this point of the season,’’ Hazen said, “internal is your only real option.’’
The Diamondbacks, 25-17, somehow have managed to lead the NL West despite having the worst-hitting offense in the National League, hitting a league-low .222, and ranking just 12th in slugging percentage and 13th in on-base percentage in the NL. It has been their pitching, yielding the league with a 3.20 ERA, that has been responsible for their success.
Yet, without Pollock, who was hitting .293 and leading the team with 11 homers, 33 RBI, and the league in slugging percentage (.620), they not only lost their offensive catalyst but finest defensive player.
“Look, I hurt with A.J. just like everybody else does,’’ D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “We are all aware of the season that he was having. I can’t give you his gut reaction but mine is one of empathy and understanding of what he’s probably walking through right now in dealing with frustration.’’
It is Pollock’s stellar defense that had him even attempting to make the diving catch with two outs in the ninth inning of their game against the Brewers, and the Diamondbacks even down by three runs. He couldn’t make the play, and Tyler Saladino wound up with an inside-the-park home run in the Brewers’ 7-2 victory.
“You wouldn’t expect any other way,” Hazen said. “For guys like A.J., it doesn’t matter what the score is. It doesn’t matter what the situation is. He’s just trying to save runs there. He’s going to do that, I bet, 100 out of 100 times.
“It’s bad luck.”
Said Lovullo: “We never ask our athletes to back down from any challenge, from any play, and that’s what good teammates do. They feel like they can go out there and make a play to help out an inning, help out a situation and win a moment.
“That’s all A.J. was doing. We will never ever fault our guys for getting after it because we ask that they do that every single day. It’s just a very, very unfortunate situation.’’
The Diamondbacks, who played the first five weeks without right fielder Steven Souza, are at least expected to get back third baseman Jake Lamb in the next week. Still, the loss of Pollock will have a huge impact, on not only the D-backs season, but perhaps his free agency.
Pollock was having such a magnificent season that he was expected to command a contract similar to center fielder Lorenzo Cain’s five-year, $80 million deal with the Brewers, or even more, but this is the third time in the last four years he will miss a huge chunk of the season. He has missed 287 games with injuries in three of the last four years.
“There’s just things you can’t control in this game,” Steven Souza says. “No matter what you say or do or how much you prepare or what you eat, weird stuff like that can happen.
“Nobody gets through the season without some sort of trials, and we’re in the midst of one.’’
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