Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

Reliever Diaz could earn spot in Rox 'pen

Young righty worked on developing changeup, felt confident in Venezuelan Winter League
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies told right-handed reliever Jairo Diaz to develop his changeup in the Venezuelan Winter League. Despite fan passion that's common in his home country, Diaz approached games with the cool of an A student doing homework.

"I felt like there was no pressure," said Diaz, who backed up an eye-opening 21 big league games in 2015 by posting a 1.86 ERA with 10 strikeouts and two walks for the Caribes in Venezuela. "I felt confident, so it wasn't hard for me. I think it was pretty good."

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies told right-handed reliever Jairo Diaz to develop his changeup in the Venezuelan Winter League. Despite fan passion that's common in his home country, Diaz approached games with the cool of an A student doing homework.

"I felt like there was no pressure," said Diaz, who backed up an eye-opening 21 big league games in 2015 by posting a 1.86 ERA with 10 strikeouts and two walks for the Caribes in Venezuela. "I felt confident, so it wasn't hard for me. I think it was pretty good."

Spring Training: Schedule | Tickets | More info

The changeup can help lead to a major forward leap for Diaz, who averaged 97.4 mph on his four-seam fastball, 95.8 mph on his two-seam fastball variation and 89.7 mph on his hard slider while going 0-1 with a 2.37 ERA and 18 strikeouts against six walks in 19 innings for the Rockies.

The Rockies brought in three veteran late-game pitchers in righties Jason Motte and Chad Qualls and lefty Jake McGee in part so they aren't forced to give key innings to Diaz, who turns 25 on May 27, and fellow inexperienced righties Miguel Castro, Justin Miller and Scott Oberg.

But if Diaz, obtained from the Angels for infielder Josh Rutledge before last season, earns it, he could be trotting to the mound in a game's late stages.

"He's competing for a job in that bullpen, for sure," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "He did himself well last year. He did a nice job for us. We're really excited about him. He's definitely in the mix in that bullpen, and he's earned that by the way he performed."

Whether that means Diaz can snatch the closer role is anyone's guess. With Weiss considering playing late-game matchups, it isn't clear there is even going to be a closer. Diaz smiles shyly at the mention of the subject.

"I don't want to say anything about it," he said. "My dream is to be a closer. That's my goal. But I have to win a job. This year, the bullpen looks really good. We have a lot of veteran guys, a lot of experience. It's good for me because I have to learn something from those guys. That's good."

A strong arm can take a guy a long way quickly.

A light-hitting, young catcher in 2008 and '09, Diaz converted to pitcher in '10 and developed a fastball that was clocked at 100 mph or more on multiple occasions. In late '14, the playoff-bound Angels wanted to bring up a young reliever to allow their veterans to rest for the playoffs and plucked Diaz -- whom they were going to protect on the 40-man Major League roster after the season, anyhow -- out of Double-A. In a 5 2/3-inning, five-game Major League debut, Diaz struck out eight and walked three.

The Rockies kept Diaz at Triple-A Albuquerque for most of last season (3-5, 4.58 ERA in 47 games) while he developed accuracy with the fastball and a mindset that works for him.

"I didn't think too much," Diaz said. "That's what I tried last year. I forget about the hitter. I never see the hitter. I see the sign I'm getting from the catcher and go from there."

Weiss said the Rockies see the changeup as an occasional weapon.

"In that role, you can certainly get away with two plus pitches, which is what he has," Weiss said. "It's handy to have that third one if hitters are starting to time you up. It's a nice weapon to have."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Jairo Diaz