Scott Diamond was two weeks into his off-season throwing program and had his eyes on a couple of goals for the 2013 baseball season.
First, the Minnesota Twins left-hander wanted to lead the Canadian starting rotation at next month’s World Baseball Classic following a strong first full season in the major leagues.
Diamond had also planned to add weight to his six-foot-three, 215-pound frame, hoping it would help him through the rigours of a long season in an attempt to reach 200 innings pitched.
Those plans were scuttled in December when Diamond had surgery to remove a bone chip in his left elbow. His goal now is to be ready for the Twins’ season opener on April 1 against the visiting Detroit Tigers.
“Having to call Greg Hamilton [the director of national teams for Baseball Canada] and let him know when the injury happened was disheartening,” Diamond said last week from Minnesota’s spring training complex in Fort Myers, Fla. “Not only do you not want to have to make that phone call, but to call Greg, who’s such a patriotic and great guy, it’s a tough phone call to make.”
Diamond, 26, played in the 2009 WBC but felt he could make more of an impact this time around after posting 12 wins and a 3.54 earned-run average in 27 starts for the Twins last season. He also displayed pinpoint control with just 31 walks in 173 innings pitched.
“I didn’t really do much in ’09,” said Diamond of the previous WBC. “I piggy-backed Vince Perkins in a game against Italy. Even though I pitched three innings, it really didn’t seem like I was a part of it as much as I would have been this year if I could have pitched."
“It’s a little tough, too,” added the Guelph, Ont., native “because that was my first taste of the big league experience and where I got to meet [first baseman] Justin Morneau, [first baseman] Joey Votto and catcher Russell Martin. That was my true ‘welcome to the big leagues’ moment where I got to meet those guys.”
Diamond admittedly was undersized in high school and didn’t have the opportunity to play baseball internationally for Canada. But he did pitch for his country in October 2010 at a Pan-Am Games qualifier in Puerto Rico.
Martin, who’s preparing for his first season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, withdrew from the WBC over the weekend because Canadian officials and the Pirates aren’t comfortable with his plan to move from his regular catcher’s position and play shortstop.
Martin said catching during a 162-game regular season in the majors is taxing on his body and didn’t want the added wear and tear playing the position at the WBC.
Still, the Canadian roster includes 11 players currently on major league teams. Votto (Cincinnati), Morneau (Minnesota) and third baseman Brett Lawrie (Toronto) are expected to lead the team along with relief pitchers John Axford (Milwaukee) and Jesse Crain (Chicago White Sox).
“Canadian baseball has been growing rapidly over the last 20 years,” Diamond said, with 147 Canadian players presently under contract with professional clubs. “You saw how well the boys pitched in the World Baseball Classic qualifier in Germany [holding the opposition to nine runs in three games].
“We definitely have the guys to [win]. We may not have as much big-league experience but that might be that underdog card that we really want to play.”
Diamond mentioned speedy outfielder Tyson Gillies as a player who could surprise many fans with a strong performance at the 2013 WBC. Blessed with good range, the 24-year-old has a chance to open the season with the Philadelphia Phillies as Delmon Young will start the season on the disabled list.
“I think Tyson Gillies is going to be good for the team,” said Diamond. “Just watching and hearing about him play a little bit, the guy’s got a little fire to him. I think he might be filling those big Adam Stern shoes.
“We have [starting pitcher] Andrew Albers in camp [with the Twins] from [North Battleford] Saskatchewan. He’s been throwing the ball real well here and I think he’s really going to put himself on the map by throwing well while he’s in Phoenix.”
Gillies homered for Canada in a 16-7 drubbing of host Germany in its second-last game at the WBC qualifier, while the 27-year-old Albers went six innings for the victory in the qualification pool final, limiting the Germans to a run on two hits in an 11-1 win.
Perhaps Canadian manager Ernie Whitt will give him the nod in the WBC opener versus Italy on March 8 in Arizona. Canada also has Round 1 games March 9 and 10 against Mexico and the United States.
The Canadian team was relegated to the qualification round after failing to record a win at the 2006 WBC. Canada also failed to advance past the first round at the 2009 event despite defeating the favoured Americans.