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Rockies' Diaz back in action sooner than expected

Righty, who had Tommy John surgery last March, pitches in 'B' game
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The bright smile that left the face of Rockies right-handed power reliever Jairo Diaz last March 5 returned Thursday morning.

Diaz, 25, who displayed a 97-mph fastball with the Angels in 2014 and the Rockies in 2015, suffered an elbow blowout last Spring Training and missed last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. But Thursday -- earlier than expected -- Diaz returned in a "B" game against the D-backs and struck out two of the three hitters he faced.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The bright smile that left the face of Rockies right-handed power reliever Jairo Diaz last March 5 returned Thursday morning.

Diaz, 25, who displayed a 97-mph fastball with the Angels in 2014 and the Rockies in 2015, suffered an elbow blowout last Spring Training and missed last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. But Thursday -- earlier than expected -- Diaz returned in a "B" game against the D-backs and struck out two of the three hitters he faced.

Using a four-seam fastball that topped at 95 mph, a two-seamer at 91 mph and even a couple sliders, Diaz skated through his inning. Recently, Diaz said he didn't expect to pitch in Minor League games until May. But the fact he's on the mound this early means he could soon appear in Cactus League games, and it's possible he'll be pitching at the start of the Minor League season.

"I was a little nervous," Diaz said. "For the first time, I felt pretty good today.

"Honestly, I didn't try to do too much today. The last game was 369 days, exactly."

In 2015, after joining the Rockies in a trade with the Angels for infielder Josh Rutledge, Diaz went 0-1 with a 2.37 ERA, 18 strikeouts and six walks in 19 innings. He was considered a candidate for late-inning duty before the injury. Thursday indicates Diaz can be a factor in the Rockies' bullpen sooner than expected.

"Isn't that great to see?" Rockies manager Bud Black said. "I like this kid, Jairo Diaz."

Worth noting

• The Rockies have reassigned six non-roster invitees to Minor League camp -- right-handers Ryan Castellani (Rockies' No. 7 prospect) and Johendi Jiminian, lefty pitcher Sam Hooward (No. 18), catcher Chris Rabago, first baseman-third baseman Ryan McMahon (No. 8) and outfielder Rosell Herrera. The moves leave the Spring Training roster at 56.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Jairo Diaz