Diaz hoping weight loss is a net gain
Career Minor Leaguer loses nearly 70 pounds in offseason
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There are often stories on a player's weight loss coming from Spring Training camps around baseball. A relief pitcher in Reds camp, Jose Diaz, nicknamed "Jumbo," will trump them all this year and possibly for the next 10 years.
Diaz, who turned 30 on Thursday, went from 347 pounds at the end of last season as a closer for Triple-A Louisville to 278 pounds when he reported to camp.
For those scoring at home, that is a 69-pound reduction. It might be time to warm up a new nickname in the bullpen with the 6-foot-4 Diaz, too.
"When I got here and everybody saw me, they said 'where is Jumbo?'" Diaz said. "I said 'I left Jumbo in the Dominican.' I'm New Jumbo right now. I feel really good."
Diaz has spent 11 seasons pitching in the Minor Leagues but has never reached the Majors. While with the Dodgers organization from 2002-07, the team had another pitcher Jose Diaz. To differentiate the two, it wasn't hard for teammates to decide which one would become "Jumbo." The larger Diaz bounced through three different organizations at the Triple-A level -- the Orioles, Pirates and Reds -- the past three seasons.
Results for Diaz really came together in 2013 for Louisville. The right-hander was 3-4 with a 1.66 ERA and 13 saves in 44 appearances. After the season, the Reds re-signed him as a free agent to another Minor League contract, but also invited him to big league camp as a non-roster player.
"We had a good talk with him when we signed him back," Reds player development director Jeff Graupe said. "We said, 'We're serious about you. We think you have tremendous talent and capabilities. But this is a two-way street. If we present this opportunity, we strongly encourage you to make the most of it.'"
That was all the Diaz needed to hear before he made a life- and career-changing decision.
Diaz returned home to the Dominican Republic and allowed himself to eat like he always had for about two weeks. After that, he had to show more will power than ever as he started his reduction.
"It's really hard to have started the diet in the Dominican," Diaz said. "You have Mama and you have your wife. They tell you they're cooking good for you. I stopped eating fried chicken, rice and beans. The best food we have in the Dominican is rice, beans and chicken."
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.
Helping Diaz trim down was that he could remain dedicated while pitching in winter ball.
"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."
Clubs will often provide some leeway to veteran players that put on some weight as they get older. Players without big league experience aren't usually afforded that opportunity.
"It shows how driven he is and how seriously he's taking this opportunity to be in camp," Graupe said. "It is an impressive feat to be 30 years old and making that type of commitment to change. It's great to see, not only for the present moment, but the long term. ... He's one of the few guys that can say with a straight face that he's in the best shape of his life and not have that quote just be a stock quote. It's great to see."
Diaz pitched a scoreless top of the ninth with one walk during the Reds' 12-3 loss to the Indians on Thursday. On a leadoff groundball to first base, he smoothly covered the bag and caught the ball for the out. Manager Bryan Price liked what he saw.
"It was great to see Jumbo Diaz out there in his first big league Spring Training after nine or 10 years of professional baseball," Price said.
The one worry Diaz had was that lost weight would equal lost velocity on his fastball. That had happened to him after a less dramatic weight loss while in the Dodgers organization several years ago. This time, it proved not to be a problem when Diaz went to pitch in winter ball.
In 20 games in the Dominican Republic, Diaz had a 2.37 ERA and three saves. He also had his velocity working during one more outing for a Venezuelan team where he gave up one run in one inning. Just as importantly, he didn't have to catch his breath between every pitch as he said he did last season. This spring, his running and fielding drills performance have improved.
"The first question they ask me is do you feel good? You can pitch regularly like before? I said yeah I feel good," Diaz said. "I threw good in Venezuela and in the Dominican, too. I had my velocity. I feel very good right now."