PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Yandy Díaz wants to try to hit for more power, and he certainly did that on Friday when he launched a three-run home run in the fifth inning of the Rays’ 7-3 win over the Tigers.
“It was nice to see Yandy get into one,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “That was pretty impressive.”
After hitting just one home run over the last two seasons in limited time with the Indians, Diaz came into Spring Training working on driving through the baseball more, not just trying to make contact. Diaz -- every bit of his 6-foot-2, 215-pound listing -- has been trying to stay consistent with his new approach.
“I still do it sometimes,” Diaz said about hitting balls on the ground. “I hit like six straight ground balls over the last couple of games. It’s just about continuing to work and keep pushing the hands more.”
When looking at why the Rays traded for Diaz this offseason, the one stat that sticks out is the exit velocity that the infielder is capable of displaying. According to Baseball Savant, in 109 at-bats last season, Diaz finished with an average exit velocity of 92.1 mph. He didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for the leaderboard, but if he continued at that pace, he would’ve had the 19th-best exit velocity in the league, just ahead of Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun and a tick behind Boston’s Mookie Betts.
“I used to hit a lot of hard ground balls,” Diaz said. “But instead of keeping my top wrist down, I want to keep my swing through and not cut down my swing as much.”
Despite his size and his ability to hit the ball hard, Diaz finished last season with just one home run with Cleveland. He was never able to get consistent playing time due to being blocked by Jose Ramirez at third base, which limited his reps, but his launch angle tells a big part of the story.
Diaz finished last season with an average launch angle of 4.4 degrees, meaning he hit ground balls most of the time. The Cuban infielder has been working on changing that this spring, and while it’s unknown what the launch angle was on Friday’s home run, it’s a noticeable difference from where he was a year ago with the Indians.
“It’s not hard,” Diaz said on trying to hit balls in the air more frequently. “The swing stays the same, but it’s more about the hands.”
It’s been a bit of an inconsistent spring for Diaz, who is also trying to work on his defense at first base. The offense hasn’t always been there, but he has looked more comfortable at the plate over the last couple of games. After getting on base in each of his three plate appearances against the Tigers, Diaz is now slashing .290/.389/.516 with two home runs this spring.
“We’re not messing with his hitting,” Cash said. “We think he’s going to hit. Regardless of [if] it’s on the ground, in the air, a line drive. He’ll hit.”
Aside from Diaz’s big game, Tommy Pham, Ryne Stanek, Jalen Beeks and Emilio Bonifacio were among the standouts in Friday’s win over Detroit.
Pham, who has been battling right shoulder soreness and has been limited to just designated hitter work over the last week, went 2-for-3 with an RBI and raised his Grapefruit League OPS to .901. Stanek, who opened the game, struck out three over two scoreless frames. Beeks allowed two of Friday’s three runs, but he continued to impress with his strike-throwing, especially in a 12-pitch at-bat against Dustin Peterson in the fourth inning.
“That long at-bat, I don’t know if he’s capable of doing that last year,” Cash said. “He just kept throwing strike after strike. Really encouraged.”
Opening Day starter and reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell will make his fourth appearance of the spring, but he’ll be doing it against an Orioles affiliate on a back field at Charlotte Sports Park. Snell is coming off two scoreless innings against the Phillies on Monday.
Yonny Chirinos, who is expected to handle one of the bulk roles in the Rays' bullpen this season, will get the start for Tampa Bay against the Twins in Port Charlotte, Fla., at 1:05 p.m. ET. Ryan Yarbrough, Hunter Wood and Hoby Milner are also slated to pitch for the Rays.