By Todd Devlin @ToddDevlin
Scott Diamond has been with the Minnesota Twins for just five weeks since earning a promotion on May 7.
But in that short amount of time, the 25-year-old has performed so well he has seemingly emerged as the unlikely leading man of the Twins staff.
The proof lies in the numbers. Over his first eight starts, the left-hander has gone 5-2 and quickly become the team leader in both wins and quality starts (six) despite spending the first month of the season with triple-A Rochester.
Meanwhile, his 2.13 ERA ranks second in the American League among pitchers with at least 50 innings.
"One of the reasons I’ve had early success is that I feel much more comfortable this year," said Diamond, a native of Guelph, Ont. "After spending some time here last year, I felt much more relaxed coming into the locker room and it helped my mind focus on just pitching."
That has been evident right from the start.
In his 2012 major league debut, the lefty twirled seven scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Angels, allowing four hits while striking out six in a 5-0 win. He followed that up with another seven scoreless frames, blanking the Blue Jays in Minnesota in his second start, a 4-3 Twins victory.
Flash forward five outings later, and he has chalked up another four quality starts, a trio of victories, and provided the Twins with a chance to win every time out — something Minnesota starters have struggled to do this season.
Diamond has done this with the added pressure that comes with not being guaranteed a spot on the major league roster.
"I knew I would need to perform right away to try and help us get back in the playoff hunt," he said. "But I looked at it as a challenge rather than as added pressure. The more I tend to think, the more difficult it is to focus on what it takes to be successful. So I try to concentrate on only what I can control."
The results thus far have been far and away the best Diamond has turned in since joining the Twins organization as a Rule 5 pick-up prior to the 2011 season.
His first year with Minnesota was largely unsuccessful. In seven big-league starts he went 1-5 with a 5.08 ERA. In the minors, he went 4-14 with a 5.56 ERA.
But there was a reason the Twins traded Billy Bullock, a minor-league pitching prospect and former second-round pick, to the Atlanta Braves in order to retain Diamond last year after he didn’t make the team out of spring training.
The organization saw something in the left-hander and didn’t want to let him get away. That decision is now paying off.
Diamond’s turnaround began in the off-season. Besides working on his curveball, he also tried to gain some strength to better prepare for the long season. But perhaps the most significant adjustment the left-hander made was between the ears.
"I worked on breathing techniques and focus drills to help settle my mind in times of pressure," he said. "I felt, mentally, sometimes last year the game sped up. This year my mindset is much more relaxed. I’m focused on locking into the target and trying to attack hitters."
During his first month with triple-A Rochester this year, Diamond went 4-1 with a 2.60 ERA in six starts. It was exactly the type of success Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire had hoped for when the club decided to have him open the year in the minors.
"He pitched his tail off down there," Gardenhire recently told MLB.com. "And when he’s come up here, he’s carried it right through. It’s a good story. That’s kind of what you hope for out of spring training."
And Diamond has continued to attack hitters in the big leagues. Before a minor blip on Thursday night against the Phillies, in which he walked a season-high two batters, the left-hander had issued just four free passes over his first 44.2 innings. And he has induced plenty of groundouts — his 1.63 ground ball to fly ball ratio is second only to Derek Lowe in the American League (minimum 50 innings).
He’s not a typical soft-tossing lefty, as he routinely hits 90 with his fastball, but he doesn’t strike out a lot of batters either (through eight starts he has a 5.15 K/9).
Nevertheless, he’s managed to get some whiffs in key situations this year, many of which have come via his revamped curveball.
"The difference is the tilt," Diamond explained. "Rather than being 12-to-6, it’s now more 11-to-5 which allows it to be more effective against lefties. It’s coming out harder and with less of a hump."
With a record of 26-39 entering play June 18, the Twins currently find themselves in the AL Central basement and it will be an uphill battle to get back into the playoff race. Diamond plans to be a part of that fight for the remainder of the year, and his numbers thus far certainly suggest he could be.
If that’s the case, the lefty will also get a unique opportunity late in the season when the Twins travel to Toronto for their lone series against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre (Oct. 1-3).
"It will be the first time I get to play in front of my family and friends back home," Diamond said. "It was pretty cool to face (the Blue Jays) here in Minnesota, but to play in Toronto to finish the year would be special."
Is he looking forward to a showdown against fellow countryman Brett Lawrie? If so, he’s not tipping his hand.
"Right now I’m focused on my next start and helping us win games and get back in the playoff hunt."