Jumbo's journey to Majors culminates in Cincinnati
After 12 seasons as a farmhand for four teams, Diaz called up to Reds' bullpen
CINCINNATI -- Reliever Jumbo Diaz earned his nickname because he used to carry a lot of weight on his big body until last year. Jumbo could also have applied to the length of his wait to reach the Major Leagues.
For the 30-year-old Diaz, a long road to the Majors is finally at its destination after 12 seasons and 340 games pitched in the Minor Leagues for four organizations. The Reds selected his contract from Triple-A Louisville on Friday after pitcher Tony Cingrani was demoted.
"I told my wife it's been 13 years since I signed my first contract with the Dodgers, and I will keep fighting to get that call, working hard every day," Diaz said inside the Reds clubhouse. "I feel so good right now. My family, everybody in town was excited because I got a call today."
Heaviest players in MLB history since 1990
With the given name of Jose, Diaz hails from La Romana in the Dominican Republic. It was there during the previous offseason where he made the decision that potentially helped him finally reach the big leagues.
Diaz learned to say no to unhealthy food, namely the rice, beans and fried chicken his mother liked to cook for him that are mainstay foods for his country. He started working with a doctor and dietician. The result was a stunning weight loss from 347 to 278 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame.
"I stopped eating late in the night after winter ball games," Diaz said. "I cut the rice, fried food, fast food and tried eating healthy -- a lot of fruit, salad and that kind of stuff. It made me better now."
Last season for Louisville, Diaz had a 1.66 ERA and earned a re-signing and a first-time invite to Reds big league camp at Spring Training. He was strongly encouraged by the organization to make the most of it, which prompted the lifestyle change.
The weight loss did not sap his Diaz's velocity -- his fastball can still reach 97-98 mph -- and his strong performance in camp made him a sleeper candidate to make the team, until he was one of the final cuts.
The numbers this season for Louisville have been even more impressive. In 30 appearances, Diaz is 2-2 with a 1.35 ERA and 18 saves in 19 attempts. In 33 1/3 innings, he allowed 25 hits and 10 walks with 31 strikeouts. The Reds bullpen, where the front end has struggled, came in with a 3.97 ERA that is ranked 14th in the National League.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he pitched in almost any role other than probably closer, unless we needed him in that role," Reds manager Bryan Price said.
Diaz made his big league debut in the seventh inning but didn't get the dream outcome. Staked with a four-run lead, he gave up three hits and three runs, including a pair of homers. Brett Lawrie drove a 98-mph 1-0 pitch for a one-out solo homer to right field. Three batters later, pinch-hitter Juan Francisco drove a two-run homer to left field. Diaz had allowed just one home run for the Bats this season. Cincinnati went on to lose, 14-9, after having an 8-0 lead in the second inning.
Diaz, who has maintained his same Spring Training weight, is not even the biggest player in the Reds' clubhouse. That distinction belongs to fellow reliever Jonathan Broxton, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds. Also a former Dodger, Broxton remembered seeing in the Diaz in that organization from 2002-07. He sees Diaz being more of a pitcher than a thrower, with a bigger repertoire, but that his reduced size also helps.
"Playing in the heat is the big thing. It wears you down so much," Broxton said. "I think he went and got in shape and he's been real productive. I think he wanted to make a statement this past offseason. This spring, no one could say he was overweight or whatever. He really worked his behind in the offseason.
"You can't really appreciate what guys do down there to stick around forever until they get their chance. He could have been out a long time ago and found a regular job. Those guys aren't making a whole lot down there."
During all the years of trying, Diaz tried to avoid self-doubt and giving up on reaching the big leagues.
"You have some point where you wake up and say, 'I'm working hard every day and I don't get the call.' You have to fight it, because you never know when that call will come," Diaz said. "If I didn't get the call, I did the best I can. Thank you God, I got the call this morning to try to help the team over here. I'm so happy. It's pretty exciting now."