Outside of re-signing Clayton Kershaw, the Los Angeles Dodgers biggest signing during the offseason was free agent outfielder A.J. Pollock.
A familiar foe in the National League West, Pollock had feasted upon Dodgers' pitching for years. Now on the side of the "good guys," expectations were high that the right-handed slugger could help lift the team over the proverbial mountaintop and buck a long-running concern that Pollock was injury prone.
Pollock has had a plethora of injuries over the last few seasons, suffering a broken thumb, broken wrist, and a groin strain to go along with multiple elbow surgeries.
When asked in February during a press conference at Dodger Stadium to introduce Pollock about the injuries, Dodgers' President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, casually tossed concerns aside, stating most of the injuries were impact related, not a predictive injury based on someone's body or physical health.
"Most of them have been impact type injuries. He’s had one soft tissue injury," said Friedman at the time. "You get into how well a guy takes care of himself, how clean does he live, eat, and those things that factor into player health. As we dug into it, we felt really good about that he does everything he possibly can to stay on the field. And to the extent that he gets hurt or someone else gets hurt, I think that’s kind of a hallmark of our team."
Pollock has missed at least 49 games each of the last three seasons, and that streak is about to extend into a fourth consecutive season after Pollock underwent surgery on his right elbow on Thursday night to remove metal hardware from previous surgeries.
"They took out the hardware and he's on the antibiotics," said Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts on Friday before the team took on the Padres in San Diego. "He had the surgery last night and was able to get out of the hospital today. He's back at home resting and recovering."
Roberts said there is no set timetable for Pollock's return, but mentioned that the structure of the elbow bone is in place, so recovery will be contingent on how quickly he can heal and begin baseball activities again.
Typically, hardware removal surgeries can take anywhere from one to two months of recovery. The procedure involves removing screws and plates from the bones, and the holes left behind can take time to fully heal.
Pollock first felt something in his elbow last weekend in a sweep over the Pittsburgh Pirates. An infection was revealed in the elbow that had a plate and screw inserted during surgery for a previous fracture.
Flashback to that February press conference where Pollock insisted that his injuries were not related to overuse, or the conditioning of his body, but rather "freak stuff."
"I think some things haven't gone my way as far as injuries," said Pollock at the time.
A glance into Pollock's long medical history would reveal not only a bevy of injuries, but also a specific vulnerability in his right elbow. Pollock fractured the elbow while diving for a ball in spring training in 2010 and had a plate and screw inserted to stabilize the joint.
The infection that arose last weekend might be considered a "freak injury," but believe it or not, it isn't even the first time Pollock has had problems with the hardware in his elbow.
In 2016, during spring training with the Diamondbacks, further problems arose with the hardware inside the elbow when he fractured it a second time while sliding into home plate during a preseason game.
While it's definitely unlucky for Pollock that the problems with the hardware inside the elbow occurred three years later, it was definitely something that probably could have been predictive at some point.
"It’s a blow, but more than anything, we feel for A.J.," said Roberts. "He was so excited to play for the Dodgers, a place he targeted. For something freak to happen like this, he’s disappointed. He was trending in the right direction. He’ll overcome it, and we’re anxious to get him back."
The 31-year-old former Gold Glove Award winner signed a four-year, $55 million contract in the offseason, but struggled throughout the first month of the season. Pollock was batting a sluggish .223 with two home runs and 14 RBI in 28 games before he was placed on the injured list on Tuesday.
The Dodgers' roster is deep enough to sustain Pollock's injury, but his absence will reveal a flaw in the team Friedman and the front office were hoping to fix this offseason: an abundance of left-handed hitters, and a team that struggles against left-handed pitching overall.
"We weren't as consistent," Friedman said about the Dodgers ability to hit left-handed pitching last season. "And I think a big thing for us is to avoid the games where we score zero, one or two runs as often as we can, score three or more, and we will win a lot of games doing that. Especially with our pitching staff. And so for us, it’s just about trying to be more consistent. And we feel like A.J. fits in really well with that not just in 2019 but also as we look ahead."
In Pollock's absence, rookie Alex Verdugo expects to get more playing time in center field, leaving an opportunity for Joc Pederson to get more playing time in left field.
Both Verdugo and Pederson are left-handed hitters, and with Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Max Muncy, and three out of five starters all Southpaws, the Dodgers are expected to have a predominantly left-handed lineup while Pollock is on the mend.
That's something that opposing teams can strategize for when facing the Dodgers as they have done in years past. Many teams will stack up their starting rotation so that they can throw a lot of left-handed starting pitchers at Los Angeles.
The San Francisco Giants through two left-handers in Drew Pomeranz and Madison Bumgarner against the Boys in Blue, and the team split those games.
To counter that, Roberts may experiment with Kiké Hernandez and Chris Taylor in centerfield, and David Freese at first base. However, outside of Hernandez (.267), Taylor is batting .162 and Freese is a paltry .233 on the year.
If Friday night's come-from-behind victory is a further indication of what's to come, the Dodgers were shutout by left-hander Eric Lauer for four innings before they finally broke through for a run in the fifth. The late-inning rally came off of the bullpen, equipped with mostly right-handers.
Hopefully, Pollock is able to return this season, and with the hardware removed, his lingering elbow injuries can finally be behind him. In the interim, expect the Dodgers to get a heavy dose of Southpaws as we enter into May and June.