PHOENIX (AP) — A.J. Pollock emerged as one of baseball's best players a year ago. Now the Arizona Diamondbacks All-Star center fielder is out for the foreseeable future after fracturing his right elbow in a head-first slide at home plate in an exhibition game Friday night.
His arm in a sling, Pollock put his best face on the situation on Saturday.
"It almost felt like a nightmare, like it really wasn't happening," Pollock said of the moments after the injury. "But today it's sunk in. Now it's kind of get prepared for what's next."
He said he was bound to dive head-first at some point this season. It wasn't the slide that hurt the elbow, Pollock said, but pushing himself back to his feet with the arm afterward.
Pollock had missed most of spring training because of a sore elbow and had talked to doctors about what would happen if a more serious injury was to occur.
"It's frustrating because how amazing I feel like our team is, and they're still going to be great," he said. "They didn't really miss me too much in spring and hopefully that will carry over."
Pollock will undergo surgery in the next few days, probably Tuesday, and neither he nor the team put a timetable on his possible return.
He did say he was shooting for a return this season
"I'm going to push for it," Pollock said. "Yeah, that's going to be my goal."
It's the second time he has broken that elbow. He did it diving for a ball in 2010, a year after the Diamondbacks drafted him in the first round, 17th overall, out of Notre Dame.
"It came right out of college," he said. "I was on top of the world, getting drafted first round, and then had that happen and it crushed me. I'm way more equipped to handle it this time around."
The surgery will be performed by Dr. Donald Sheridan, elbow, hand and wrist surgeon for the Diamondbacks.
In 2010, Pollock missed the entire season but was back for fall league play. He expects this recovery to go more smoothly.
"The rehab wasn't very smooth just because there was a little confusion what was going on," he said of that first surgery. "This time I know the doctor really well and I'm really confident in everything."
Sheridan declined to talk to reporters until after the surgery.
Pollock hit .315 last season with 39 doubles, 20 home runs, 39 stolen bases, 111 runs scored and 192 hits — all career highs. His 192 hits led all major league outfielders. He earned his first All-Star berth, by players' vote, and won his first Gold Glove.
Manager Chip Hale had flirted earlier this spring with the idea of shifting infielder Chris Owings to center field, and Owings was in center in Saturday's preseason finale against Kansas City.
Owings has been in tough competition with Jean Segura and Nick Ahmed for the second base and shortstop positions.
"We've had this in the back of our mind for a while," Hale said. "Why didn't we play him sooner? Maybe we should have. But we had a real good feeling that A.J. was going to be able to open up for us. All the indicators we were looking at were pointing at him being OK."
Owings said he hasn't played center field since he was 11 or 12 but is ready for the challenge.
"It's nothing like it's crazy new," he said. "I've shagged a lot of balls out there. Spring training we're out there all the time just kind of messing around. I worked with (first base coach) Dave (McKay) a little bit this morning. I'm just trying to get comfortable on some reads out there. That's the biggest thing now."
Hale and the Diamondbacks players all remarked on Owings' athleticism.
"He's probably the best athlete on the team," Paul Goldschmidt said. "If anyone can do it, it would be him."
Hale said Owings could be in the opening day lineup because the Diamondbacks will be facing a left-hander, Colorado's Jorge De La Rosa.
But the bulk of the playing time in center could go to 23-year-old Socrates Brito, who hit .300 for Double-A Mobile last season.
"He's ready for this," Hale said. "We're very fortunate to have guys go and play winter ball and play in a real high competition. He's done that. He was rookie of the year in the Dominican League, so we know he can handle playing every day."