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Diekman honored for long road back

Reliever earns Richard Durrett Hardest Working Man Award after returning following three abdominal surgeries
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

ARLINGTON -- Jake Diekman returned from his Caribbean honeymoon with his wife, Amanda, in time to be at the Texas Rangers Dr Pepper Awards Banquet on Friday night. Diekman was honored as the 2017 winner of the Richard Durrett Hardest Working Man Award and enjoyed every minute of the banquet. Last year's awards dinner was an entirely different situation.

"A year ago, I was six days away from getting surgery," Diekman said. "I was super nervous. Now I'm not nervous at all, about anything. Nothing really bothers me anymore. I feel great. I just get to live now."

ARLINGTON -- Jake Diekman returned from his Caribbean honeymoon with his wife, Amanda, in time to be at the Texas Rangers Dr Pepper Awards Banquet on Friday night. Diekman was honored as the 2017 winner of the Richard Durrett Hardest Working Man Award and enjoyed every minute of the banquet. Last year's awards dinner was an entirely different situation.

"A year ago, I was six days away from getting surgery," Diekman said. "I was super nervous. Now I'm not nervous at all, about anything. Nothing really bothers me anymore. I feel great. I just get to live now."

That has not always been an easy thing to do for Diekman. He had been dealing with ulcerative colitis for most of his life and last year it reached a point where the pain and discomfort were intolerable.

Diekman elected to undergo treatment, which became an arduous odyssey involving three surgical procedures on his abdomen, removal of the colon and reconstruction of his digestive system.

The procedures were done in January, April and June and forced Diekman to miss the first five months of the season. He made a successful return in September and is now symptom-free. This offseason, Diekman was able to enjoy his honeymoon in Saint Lucia and prepare normally for a significant role in the Rangers' bullpen in 2018.

Video: LAA@TEX: Diekman solid in return to the mound

Diekman pitched in 11 games over the final month, allowing three runs in 10 2/3 innings. He walked 10, struck out 13 and averaged 94.8 miles per hour on his fastball. If the strength is there, the command should return.

"It kind of just told me I can do it still," Diekman said. "I had a different time frame in my head. I thought I would pitch before September. It didn't happen, but for the last month I felt really good. I felt like I kept getting stronger as the month went on.

"I have nothing to worry about. It stinks that I didn't play the first five months of the year, but I also got to watch a ton of baseball. I saw the game from a different perspective, which really opened my eyes. Just different situations on the mound."

The Rangers welcome him back. The exact composition of the Texas bullpen is still to be determined, but Diekman could be a candidate to close or return to a setup role. Either way, he will be a critical late-inning reliever for the Rangers.

"We missed him a ton," manager Jeff Banister said. "We missed him every single night last year. I know he was there with us at times, but just the presence to have the availability for him to pitch for us puts a lot of those guys back in spots they are more comfortable and more adept at pitching in."

Friday was the first time Banister had seen Diekman since the end of the season.

"He looks great," Banister said. "Looks like he put on some weight, looks strong."

Diekman, able to eat like a normal human being again, said he has put on 17 pounds since the end of the year.

"I tried a suit on today and it didn't fit," Diekman said. "I feel stronger than I ever have. Physically, I feel great."

The mental outlook is also the same -- and that may be most important award of all.

"I really have nothing to worry about, ever," Diekman said. "Even when I came back, nothing really bothered me on the mound any more. I want to do the best I can possibly do, but it's not life or death. Mentally and physically, I feel like I can go out and dominate."

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

Texas Rangers, Jake Diekman