Guelph’s Diamond no longer in rough, now on Rogers Centre mound
* LHP Scott Diamond (Guelph, Ont.) who pitched for coach Danny Thompson and Team Ontario is on a roll headed into Game 162 of the season at the Rogers Centre. In his previous two outings against the AL Central winning Detroit Tigers he allowed three earned runs while striking out six in 14 1/3 innings in a pair of Minnesota wins ….
By Todd Devlin
In a lot of ways, 2012 has been a storybook year for left-hander Scott Diamond. Since his early May call-up from triple-A, the 26-year-old has emerged as the top arm in the Minnesota Twins rotation.
In 26 outings, he has gone 12-8 with a 3.54 ERA, numbers that easily place him tops among Minnesota starters. It has truly been a breakout year for the left-hander, who is quickly becoming one of the top Canadian pitchers in the game.
On Wednesday night, Diamond’s storybook year will culminate in fitting fashion. When the left-hander takes the mound against Brandon Morrow and the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, it will mark his first appearance in his native country as a major leaguer.
“It was pretty cool to face [the Blue Jays] in Minnesota, but to play in Toronto to finish the year will be special,” said Diamond, a native of Guelph, Ont. “It will be the first time I’ll get to play in front of my family and friends back home.”
And those friends and family will get to see Diamond at his best. In his last two outings – both against the playoff-bound Detroit Tigers – the left-hander allowed three earned runs while striking out six in 14 1/3 innings in a pair of Minnesota victories.
Those outings provided a glimpse into why Diamond has been so successful this year, as he relied on good command and worked deep into both contests. That’s something the Twins have been able to rely on from their Canadian starter this year.
“He’s been the one constant,” said Rob Antony, Minnesota’s assistant general manager. “He’s been the guy who gives you a chance to win about every time out … he gives us six, seven innings. He has commanded the fastball and pitched with confidence.
In short, Diamond has done all the things Antony and the Twins scouting staff saw when they made him a Rule 5 draft pick prior to the 2011 season. The left-hander didn’t make the team out of spring training, but Minnesota managed to work out a deal to keep the Canadian by sending Billy Bullock, a minor-league pitching prospect, to the Atlanta Braves — the team Diamond had signed with as an undrafted free agent in 2007.
The left-hander didn’t pitch the way he’d have liked in 2011, going 1-5 with a 5.08 ERA in seven big-league starts and 4-14 with a 5.56 ERA in the minors. And he was disappointed when the Twins made him one of the first cuts in spring training this year.
“We told him rather than pitch an inning here or there, we want you to get stretched out and get ready for the season because you may be one of the first guys when we need somebody,” Antony said. “So just be the right guy … so that when we need someone, you’re the guy.”
Diamond did exactly that, going 4-1 with a 2.60 ERA in six outings at Triple-A Rochester before being summoned to the big club on May 7. In the big leagues, he was even better, posting a 5-1 record and a sparkling 1.61 ERA over his first month with the Twins.
“I knew I would need to perform right away to try and help us get back in the playoff hunt,” Diamond said. “But I looked at it as a challenge rather than as added pressure.”
The Twins have long been out of the playoff hunt, but Diamond has continued his own success, serving as the lone bright spot on a Minnesota staff that finds itself at or near the bottom in the American League in most pitching categories.
Diamond credits much of his breakthrough success this season with an improved mental approach on the mound, which he says he strengthened during the offseason.
“Mentally, last year sometimes I felt the game sped up,” he said. “So this offseason I worked on breathing techniques and focus drills to help settle my mind in times of pressure. This year my mindset has been much more relaxed, and I have tried to keep things as simple as I can, not trying to make the perfect pitch every time.”
But he has made plenty of perfect pitches, according to Antony, and that has allowed him to work deep into games and continue to give the Twins opportunities to win ballgames.
“He’s really learned to handle damage control and pitch out of jams and situations without getting stressed out,” the assistant general manager said. “Last year he was a little more high-strung, but this year he’s been very focused and able to contain his emotions and make big pitches to get outs when he needs them.”
He has pitched so well that on his radio show this week, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he believes the only starting pitcher currently penciled into next year’s rotation is Diamond.
“I heard him say that, and I would agree,” said Antony. “We’ve got Diamond in ink, and then we have to figure out the other four starting spots. Diamond’s a lock.”
And the Twins brass are confident Diamond can have continued success in the major leagues despite not having overpowering stuff.
“Guys like Scott, who throw 89 to 91 mph, have to make adjustments,” Antony said. “They have to learn how to pitch, and they have to understand their own strengths and weaknesses and the hitter’s strengths and weaknesses. But he’s a sharp guy and a pretty good student of the game.”
Antony also thinks Diamond’s work off the field will go a long way toward his achieving continued success on the mound.
“He does all his weight work, he does the bike, he does all this stuff to stay in good shape,” he said. “And he’s big into nutrition. He takes very good care of his body. He’s a really hard worker and he’s very dedicated to his profession.”
But before Diamond starts thinking ahead to next year, he’ll get one more opportunity to strut his stuff in 2012 – this time in front of his family and friends Wednesday night at the Rogers Centre. And fans will get the opportunity to see this rising Canadian talent pitch for the first time in the majors in his home and native land.