With a name like Jumbo Diaz, you don't expect the newest Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher to look like slender speedster Billy Hamilton. But Diaz, 30, who was called up to the big leagues Friday after 12 seasons in the minors, won't be all the man he used to be when he slides on that Reds jersey for the first time.
Jumbo is called such for a reason. He finished last season at 347 pounds, but returned to camp this spring looking to finally make the big leagues and, accordingly, was sporting a new 278-pound frame. That's a 69-pound difference.
It's paid off too. Diaz had a 1.35 ERA in 30 appearances this season in Triple-A. He struck out 31 batters in 33 1/3 innings, giving up just five earned runs. So when the Reds sent struggling pitcher Tony Cingrani down to Triple-A on Friday, they finally gave Diaz his ticket to The Show.
In Reds spring camp, Diaz told reporters he felt like a new man, but he wasn't quite changing his nickname, just amending it. From the Cincinnati Enquirer's C. Trent Rosecrans:
"A lot of people say you have to change your nickname because you're not Jumbo anymore," Diaz said. "But I feel really good because everyone's impressed when they see me. They say, 'Where is Jumbo?' I'm 'New Jumbo' now. I feel really good and I'm doing my best right now.
The nickname came because at one point he was in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization and they had two players named Jose Diaz. To make it easier, the hefty pitcher became "Jumbo." But knowing that his weight was part of the reason he wasn't getting called up — despite a 1.66 ERA in 2013 and good stuff, including a 96-97 mph fastball — Diaz decided to make a change last winter.
He went home to the Dominican Republic and had to say no to the food he was accustomed to eating from his mother and wife — rice, beans, fried chicken. Then he went into the Dominican Winter League and could feel the difference. He was scared he might lose some of his velocity, but he didn't, and that encouraged him to keep going. From MLB.com's Mark Sheldon:
Under the supervision of a dietician, while making weekly doctor visits, Diaz replaced the rice and beans with salads and fruit. He ate healthy five times per day, while also running and working out. The late night junk food eating ceased, as well.
"When the season started in the Dominican, I had lost like 30 pounds. When I was pitching, I was pitching good. I was like, 'I can do it.' I wanted to lose 50-70 pounds," Diaz said. "The doctor said I could lose like 15 or 20 and I said no. I have to go pitch in Spring Training and there's a lot of running every day. I said I wanted to stop at 275-277. I keep working hard and I'm in the gym every day and still eating healthy. I don't want to go back like before."
"Before," was a stark difference to what Diaz looks like now. From a binder inside his locker, he produced a photo of himself while he was on the mound for Triple-A Indianapolis a couple of seasons ago. He estimated that he weighed 330 pounds then.
"I don't want to be like that anymore," Diaz said. "Now I'm in good shape. I want to wait for that one opportunity."
That one opportunity, it's here. And Jumbo Diaz — the New Jumbo — is going to appreciate it even more than he would have a year ago. Because now he'll know that it's a result of even more hard work, even more sacrifice.
''I was so excited,'' Diaz said Friday after walking into the big-league clubhous for the first time. ''I stopped and looked around and said, 'Oh, my God. This is what I've been waiting for for a long time.'''
A great weight now, literally and figuratively, is off his shoulders.
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