July 19, 2014


KIND OF A BIG DEAL (Howard Megdall, 7/19/14, Sports on Earth)

"I've had that nickname ever since I played for the Dodgers," Diaz said, holding a mostly-eaten orange, as we stood in the hallway in front of the Reds clubhouse Friday. "Because we had two Jose Diazes on the team, and every time we threw in the bullpen, we needed to know who the manager wanted. So George Cooper, the pitching coach, told me, you're gonna be Jumbo Diaz from now on. And from 2002 to now, everybody call me Jumbo."

From 2002 to now, Diaz has also regularly gotten minor league hitters out. Sure, he had some mitigating circumstances. He had Tommy John surgery in 2004. Another procedure, to put a screw in his elbow, cost him the 2008 season.

But Diaz posted a sub-2 ERA in 2010 at two minor league levels, a 1.41 ERA for Double-A Bowie in 2011. His ERA at Triple-A Louisville in 2013 was 1.66, and he'd lowered that to 1.35 in 2014 before finally getting promoted. He belonged to the Dodgers, the Rangers, the Orioles, the Pirates and the Reds.

So what took so long?

When I asked Diaz's manager, Bryan Price, whether it surprised him to see someone with Diaz's talent fail to get a major league chance, he said it did. "I never had a chance to see Jumbo pitch until spring training. I had heard about him. I knew he was in the organization. He played for a lot of teams, he threw hard, and he was a huge man. And so, the weight loss, when I saw him, he didn't look abnormally large. There are some guys at 265, 270 pounds who are out there. But to think that he could throw that hard, throw that many strikes, have three quality pitches and not have pitched in the big leagues was unusual to me. I didn't get it."

But there, within Price's answer, is all that has changed about Jumbo Diaz, the first Jumbo in the major leagues since Jumbo Nash last played for the Phillies in 1972. He no longer looks "abnormally large."

Diaz didn't add a pitch in 2014. He's always thrown hard, with reasonable walk rates and strikeouts around one per inning. He didn't fine-tune command of his four-seam or two-seam offerings, both of which come in around 98 miles per hour on average, or his slider at 90, changeup at 88.

He did lose about 70 pounds. It's been, unequivocally, a great thing for his career and his life. But it's fair to wonder if perception, rather than anything that kept him from a viable career as a relief pitcher, held him back until last month.

Posted by at July 19, 2014 8:19 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus