AJ Pollock is back earlier than expected from his right hamstring injury, thanks to a bevy of people and a rehab process that might have been deemed unconventional even just a few years ago. He’s already impacted both games he started this week, helping the Dodgers to a pair of much-needed wins in their tight divisional race.
Shortly after Pollock slid into third base while getting picked off on September 4, grabbing his knee, he was diagnosed with a Grade 2 hamstring injury, the seriousness of which was evident when Pollock had to be helped off the field in San Francisco.
“Quite frankly, when it first happened, and seeing how he was moving, I thought that was the end of the season for him,” manager Dave Roberts said Friday.
At the time, Pollock was expected to miss 2-3 weeks at minimum, with only four weeks remaining on the regular season schedule. He ended up missing only 17 days, activated on Wednesday in Denver.
“A lot of people put in a lot of work, a lot of trainers. It was a ton of people,” Pollock said. “Minor league strength coaches came in and helped me out at the end. Minor league players came through. It was awesome, a big team effort.”
This was the second hamstring strain for Pollock this season, one in each leg. He missed 18 games in May and June with a left hamstring injury, and during his rehab for that malady he played four games for Low-A Rancho Cucamonga.
Those rehab games with the Quakes were relatively local, all at home in Rancho Cucamonga, 46 miles from Dodger Stadium. But his rehab this time around, for his right hamstring, was even more local, almost entirely at Chavez Ravine.
“I wanted to stay in LA. There’s people there that work on me. We’ve got a trainer, Keith Pyne, that works with us, and he was in town,” Pollock explained. “It was great to be able to stay back and work. They let me do that, which is a credit to them. There are a lot of organizations that would say ‘You have to do this,’ but they are open-minded, and I’m really appreciative of that.”
For years, standing operating procedure in baseball was for injured players to play in minor league rehab games before getting activated, to make sure they test whatever injury they are dealing with before returning, and to get reps at game speed to prepare. But major league teams aren’t as dogmatic in many areas these days, instead tailoring their approach to fit each player.
Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, and Jimmy Nelson are other Dodgers this season who returned from an injured list stint without playing in minor league rehab games, for instance, instead working with the training and medical staff while getting as many simulated reps as they can, including sometimes facing minor league pitchers brought to Dodger Stadium.
“It’s kind of always evolving, and I think that’s a good thing. There’s no one way to do things, and to have that mindset is very unhealthy,” Roberts said. “I do give credit to Andrew [Friedman] and [assistant general manager] Brandon Gomes, who are giving guys opportunities. It’s individual, and respecting AJ and his service time, and understanding how that process goes.
“Whatever best gets him ready to help us at the major league level is what we do, the player development all the way up and down, to get a guy prepared. That’s why it’s an organizational win, and when we win a championship, it’s a lot of people that are involved.”
Pollock’s return was accelerated further, activating him on Wednesday, two days prior to when originally planned, because of Cody Bellinger’s fractured rib and Chris Taylor’s pinched nerve in his neck.
The Dodgers plan to take it relatively easy with Pollock, with Roberts bringing up the word “governor” to describe not wanting Pollock to overly exert himself to potentially exacerbate the injury. This is similar to injuries this season for Betts, Muncy, and Bellinger.
Pollock pinch-hit on Wednesday then started the last two games in left field. His impact was immediate, with a pair of doubles in the finale at Coors Field, then a home run and a stellar catch on Friday at Chase Field. Pollock was removed late in both starts on double switches. With Taylor slated to start in center field on Saturday, one might expect Pollock could get a day off, with Gavin Lux sliding back over to left field.
But that Pollock is back at all, especially so soon, is a welcome addition to the team.
“Keep pushing, that was my idea from the beginning. Push, stay aggressive, and work every day. Come to the ballpark like I’m attacking my rehab. I was just going to keep doing that and see where it was going to take me,” Pollock said. “I didn’t know exactly where it was going to get us, and this is where it landed. I feel pretty good about where we’re at.”