SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners’ Edwin Diaz has confidence and a new pitch entering 2nd season

Feb 24, 2017, 6:05 AM

Second-year closer Edwin Diaz is working on reincorporating a changeup into his pitch repertoire. (...

Second-year closer Edwin Diaz is working on reincorporating a changeup into his pitch repertoire. (AP)

(AP)

PEORIA, Ariz. – Edwin Diaz is enjoying his first big-league camp. This time last year he was getting ready to report to minor-league camp as a starting pitcher. Now he is preparing for a full season of closing games for the Mariners, having proven in 2016 that he was ready for the task. Quite a transition to make in a short time, but Diaz has never seemed daunted, let alone awed by the experience.

“Diaz is very confident,” manager Scott Servais said. “He knows he belongs.”

That is what we have seen in the clubhouse in Peoria. Early Thursday, morning the 22-year-old Diaz was sitting on one of the sofas in the middle of the room holding court with some of the younger players. It was a loud conversation, in Spanish, with lots of laughter. It was something you wouldn’t have seen in a veteran clubhouse not all that long ago, when younger players were to be seen and not heard.

“The good thing about this club, all of the veteran players, we treat everyone the same. Everyone on the field is part of the team,” Robinson Cano said.

Everyone is a part of the team, but this player was the one who was handed leads that needed to be protected. Cano and teammates learned quickly that Diaz could be trusted in that role.

“The confidence he gives us is the way he pitched last year,” Cano said. “He came up and wasn’t afraid to face anyone. When you have got a kid that age that has that confidence and that stuff? The hardest thing is to have confidence in yourself, but he has confidence and he works hard.”

Cano has been supportive of Diaz on and off the field. When Diaz approached him late last season and asked if he could help him over the offseason with the baseball clinic he puts on for kids in Puerto Rico, Cano said he would.

“He came to my hometown and he helped me,” Diaz said, clearly thrilled. “We showed the kids some things about baseball. They were happy. They said, ‘Oh, Robinson Cano is here!’ They had fun at the clinic and Robbie helped them a lot. It was fun to see Robbie over there.”

Said Cano: “I had a lot of fun. It’s always good to support, but it is especially good to see a young kid doing this kind of stuff. It was more than what I really expected. A young kid, never been in the big leagues. It was good to see.”

Diaz’s focus is now on the World Baseball Classic and the upcoming season.  He admits that he got tired in September and that his workouts – as well as gaining 10 pounds – were geared toward getting him through the longer big-league schedule.

“The last month of the season is tough, everyone is tired. I want to be like April then,” Diaz said.

He is also working on getting the changeup that he threw as a starter back into his repertoire.

“He knows he has still got things to work on,” Servais said. “He’s got a special arm. He saw the development of the slider, you will see him throw a few changeups this spring, I think it is something to put in the head of the left-handed hitters. Understanding it’s a full season, and the league knows him, they will be ready.”

Said Diaz: “They know I have the fastball/slider. I want to show them I have the third pitch. It looks good now; we will see when I throw it to hitters how it breaks. When I have more confidence in it, I will throw it to righties, too.”

Diaz has looked strong early in camp, having arrived ready to leave for the WBC in the first week of March. It is something he has been looking forward to for a long time. Of course, there could be the awkward situation of teammates facing teammates.

“Ohhh. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Cano said with a laugh. “I’m going to forget he is my friend.”

Diaz will take a different approach.

“That will be fun,” he said. “We’ve talked about that. They want a fastball.”

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