Healthy A.J. Pollock aims to exceed 2015 breakout season

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) One of the best facts about this year's Arizona Diamondbacks: A.J. Pollock is back, healthy, and confident he can exceed the breakout season he put together in 2015.

''I'm not really living two years ago,'' the 29-year-old center fielder said Wednesday after playing one inning in an exhibition against Grand Canyon University. ''I'm living what's going on right now. It's getting better everywhere - with the swing, getting better defensively and just kind of getting smarter.''

A year ago, Pollock was among the reasons for the optimism that pervaded spring training. In 2015, he hit .315 with 20 home runs, 39 doubles and 39 stolen bases in 157 games, earning his first All-Star appearance along the way.

He also won his first gold glove for his outstanding defense.

But in an exhibition game three days before the 2016 regular season began, he slid into home, dragging his arm across the plate. As he looked to push himself up, he grabbed his right elbow in pain. The diagnosis, a fractured elbow, and Pollack's season was done, although he did come back late to play in 12 games.

There were many other problems with the Diamondbacks, but the loss of one of their two best players (Paul Goldschmidt of course is the other) was certainly a significant contributing factor to the team's woes.

The elbow had been sore that spring before the injury but he feels none of that this year.

''I feel great,'' he said. ''The elbow's something in the past. (I'm) just working smart and I'm looking forward to this spring.''

New manager Torey Lovullo had Pollock batting leadoff on Wednesday but hasn't decided on his regular-season batting order. Lovullo said he has to keep reminding himself that Pollock was hurt last year.

''I have a to take a step back once in a while because he looks so comfortable and he's so ready that I forget he's missed last year,'' Lovullo said. ''But we have to be careful with him. We're going to make sure that he's in the right place moving forward.''

Pollock said he doesn't care where he bats in the lineup.

''In the past five years I feel like I've hit in every spot,'' he said. ''I have good practice in most of the spots in the order. There's little things I guess, opportunities you get are a little different. But as far as my approach, as far as I go out there and attack a pitcher, it's the same.''

The new manager knows how fortunate he is to have a player with the combination of offense, defense and attitude that Pollock brings.

''He's an offensive catalyst, we know that,'' Lovullo said, ''and he's one of those rare guys that plays on both sides of the ball. He's a defensive catalyst. He's a defensive anchor. I know that was a major piece that was missing last year, so to have him back healthy, watch him smile, watch him go through his work day is a really good thing for all of us.''

Pollock has taken an immediate liking to Lovullo.

''Torey's been great,'' Pollock said. ''He came in here day one with a good message. His first meeting with the team was excellent. I think everyone left very impressed and also just excited about the year. He's been a good communicator this first week, so I'm looking forward to getting to know him more. But so far I think everyone is just really excited about him and the type of camp and the type of attitude he's already established.''

Pollock never has played in a playoff game. He's played for years with others in the core of this team.

''You don't know how many opportunities you get, how many seasons you get in this game,'' he said, ''so there's always a sense (that) if you don't get there, it's a missed opportunity.''

But he said there's no extra pressure on the members of that core to win now.

''To put more pressure on it would be silly, but we like our team,'' he said. ''I don't know what happens in the future, but right now it's a fun team to be a part of.''

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