If Edwin Diaz’s first week with the Seattle Mariners proved anything, it’s his fastball is ready for the big leagues.
Diaz, just 22, flashed a 100-mph fastball in his Major League debut on June 6. He retired three straight batters and received a standing ovation from the Safeco Field crowd.
And the young fireballer impressed manager Scott Servais in the process.
“I was ecstatic with the way he handled the situation,” Servais said after the game. “I thought his mound presence was great. He’s a happy-go-lucky kid.”
A third-round draft pick in 2012 by the Jack Zduriencik regime, Diaz flashed potential but was inconsistent in the minors as a starter. He made the switch to the bullpen in Double-A Jackson this season after six starts. Ten appearances later, he found himself in Seattle when the team strugged to find a right-handed arm to replace the injured Tony Zych.
Jackson manager Daren Brown, who spent seven seasons managing the Tacoma Rainiers, said Diaz’s immediate success as a reliever was a credit to his athleticism and raw talent.
“It’s not like he’s got it all down, he did a nice job of it, but at the same time it’s still something he’s only been doing for less than two months,” Brown said. “I’m sure even in the big leagues he’s going to be learning and figuring things out as he goes along.”
So far, so good. In three appearances with the Mariners, Diaz has struck out three in 2 2/3 innings, giving up two hits and two walks with a 3.38 ERA. More impressively, he’s shown the type of arm Servais deemed “electric” when Diaz was called up.
Jackson pitching coach Andrew Lorraine has worked with Diaz the last two seasons. He said the pitcher he saw this year in Double-A had made strides over the one he coached last year at Single-A Bakersfield.
“Last year, I was more of coaching a kid that was learning a lot … asking a lot of questions,” Lorraine said. “He didn’t know why certain things were the way they were.”
Diaz didn’t know why his pitches would run to the arm side, or why he wasn’t able to get the ball to the outside of the plate the way he wanted to — all things young pitchers have to figure out.
Lorraine said Diaz has learned to play to his strengths and has matured by leaps and bounds.
“He’s nailing that right now and he’s figured out how to keep his body in line and make the pitch to that side of the plate,” Lorraine said. “His command has gotten a lot better, but just his outlook on the game and what’s important, how to go about his business and all the things you need to do be a professional in the game.
“He’s gotten better as a pitcher, but he’s gotten better as a man, too. I think that’s why he is where he is now.”
Lorraine said his instructions to Diaz on becoming a reliever were simple.
“I said, ‘All you gotta do, man, is repeat your deliveries, make sure you can come in throwing strikes with your pitches and you have to have a short memory a little bit, good and bad, and obviously you have to keep working,’ ” Lorraine said.
Diaz expected to pitch in the majors, but it came much quicker than he imagined it.
“I (thought) if I made the big league this year, it would be late September, maybe August-September,” Diaz said.
The time frame got accelerated with Diaz’s performance in Jackson out of the bullpen. In 11 2/3 innings as a reliever, he struck out 16 and hardly gave up a baserunner (three hits, two walks).
After facing the Tennessee Smokies in Kodak, Tennessee, on June 2, Diaz was leaving the stadium to meet his teammate at Subway when he got a surprise call from Brown telling him to come back to the ballpark.
Diaz said he walked into Brown’s office with a big smile because he had a pretty good idea about what was to happen. He thought he was getting promoted … to Triple-A Tacoma, not the Mariners.
“I started laughing,” Diaz said, when Brown told him he’d been called up to big leagues. “Wow, incredible. I was thinking, ‘That was quick.’ ”
Diaz then called home to his parents in Puerto Rico, who started crying when they heard the news.
“He was beaming ear-to-ear, but I also think he kind of took it in stride like, ‘Yeah, I’m ready. I expect this,’ ” Lorraine said.
“He really had that kind of look to him like, ‘I’m not going to change what I’m doing, I’m just going to go there and do the same thing.’ ”