Diaz's dominant September continues for Rox
DENVER -- Many closers enter to songs that threaten to ransack a village. Often at Coors Field, an ominous keyboard noise known as “The Drone” holds for many seconds to herald the entrance of the tough guy in the ninth inning.
But Jairo Díaz begins his ninth differently. He trots out to “Con Calma” by Daddy Yankee and Katy Perry, featuring Snow. It doesn’t take a long Google search to reveal it’s high on the list – current and all time – of top party jams.
Díaz’s life these days has a happy beat you can dance to. He deserves it. Even with no save opportunity and six straight balls (plus a hit and a walk) to start Monday's ninth inning, the happy dance continued. He escaped with one strikeout and no runs allowed to close out the Rockies’ fourth straight win -- and sixth in their last seven games -- a 9-4 victory over the Mets at Coors Field.
“I appreciate this organization for giving me a second opportunity,” Díaz said. “I thank God. I really thank God.”
Díaz, 28, took over the closer's role after Wade Davis struggled and lost the job to Scott Oberg, then Oberg’s standout season ended because of blood clots in his right arm. Diaz has been dominant, as he hasn't allowed an earned run in his last nine appearances spanning 9 2/3 innings, while going 4-for-4 in save opportunities during that stretch.
“It’s a great feeling,” Díaz said. “When I was traded here in 2015, I was supposed to be the future closer. And I know I’m doing it right now because Wade and Obie [are out], that’s what happened. This is awesome for me.”
Díaz missed all of 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Then, during his comeback, his wife, Dubraska "Duby" Díaz was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She died Oct. 22, 2017.
This season, Díaz started with Triple-A Albuquerque, where he posted a 0.45 ERA in 16 relief appearances. He was called up on May 22, and he's excelled by using a fastball that averages 97.6 mph (entering Monday), a sinker that averages 96.8 and a developing slider. The righty has held opponents scoreless in 31 of his 51 appearances for the Rockies.
And life away from the ballpark is wonderful.
“My daughter is good -- she’s here with me,” Díaz said. “My mom is here with me. And I have a girlfriend now. She has helped me a lot with my daughter. It’s very good right now.”
Monday was also a good night for the Rockies, who are playing for momentum in 2020 -- both in terms of established players, and players such as Díaz who seek to be either integral players or grab roster roles for next season.
• Righty starter Antonio Senzatela knocked in two runs with a fourth-inning single -- his first hit of the season. On the mound, he allowed four runs on eight hits in six innings, escaping a jam in his final frame. With two runners on, one out and a two-run lead, the usually fastball-reliant Senzatela baffled pinch-hitter Luis Guillorme with a curveball for a strikeout. He then induced a groundout with a fastball against pinch-hitter Joe Panik. Senzatela has been in and out of the rotation this year, but he is expected to be more consistent next season.
• Versatile Garrett Hampson, who bounced between Colorado and Albuquerque before impressing this month, matched his career high with three hits. All of those games have come since Friday.
• Trevor Story continued to make himself at home in the leadoff role with a three-run homer in the fourth, part of a six-run frame against Mets starter Steven Matz. In the latest incarnation of the lineup, Nolan Arenado, batting third instead of cleanup, had two hits, including an RBI double, and Charlie Blackmon, Colorado's erstwhile leadoff man, added two hits. Ian Desmond hit his 18th homer of the season and the 22nd of his career against the Mets, tied with Albert Pujols for fifth most against them.
• Righty reliever Carlos Estévez, who like Díaz bounced between Colorado and Albuquerque but settled into a late-inning role, fanned two in the eighth to extend his scoreless streak to a career-high nine games.
What does Díaz's surge mean for next season?
Heading into the final season of a three-year, $52 million contract, Davis hopes to rebound from going 1-6 with a 7.87 ERA in 49 appearances. Oberg, who supplanted Davis, went 6-1 with a 2.25 ERA and five saves in 49 games, and he hopes all goes well to return next spring.
But if there is a competition for the closer's role, Díaz seems ready for it. The pressure doesn’t bother him, and knowing he is pitching the ninth means he can prepare himself better.
If not, Díaz is still confident and appreciative.
“If next year I’m not going to be the closer, I’m going to do whatever I have to do to help the team," Díaz said.
Manager Bud Black avoids hyperbole, knowing that Díaz’s fastballs have solid movement and “heavy sink,” but that his breaking pitch needs to be more consistent. Black is pulling for him.
“He’s a good guy,” Black said. “Obviously, tragedies happen. This one hit home to us. Time has a way of healing things. He’s back on track to hopefully have a long career.”