Reigning ASG MVP Díaz strengthens '24 All-Star case with 3-RBI game

June 6th, 2024

DENVER – Since earning last year’s All-Star Game Most Valuable Player award, has noticed greater recognition on his travels.

The Rockies’ do not have baseball’s biggest following. But among fans with roots in baseball-loving Latin America, including Díaz’s home country of Venezuela and the land he represented in last year’s World Baseball Classic, Colombia, Díaz is a meaningful figure.

“The All-Star Game, the [All-Star Game] MVP and all that kind of stuff after last year -- it’s been incredible,” Díaz said Wednesday morning, right as the 2024 All-Star Game ballot was released, in English and Spanish. “Personally, I want more.

“I believe everybody has to have the same mindset. Every day is a new day and we have to get better. We need to do it in this game.”

The Rockies found themselves needing to practice that mindset after Wednesday afternoon’s late-innings implosion in a 12-7 loss as the Reds completed a three-game sweep of the Rockies at Coors Field. Colorado has lost five straight.

But before all went to pieces for the Rockies, Díaz pushed his All-Star candidacy into high gear.

Díaz launched a fifth-inning home run for a 5-4 lead, and added an RBI single during a two-run seventh as the Rockies went up, 7-4. The performance gave Díaz, who entered the day eighth in the National League in batting average, a .306 average with five home runs and 27 RBIs.

“‘Ellie’ is having a nice year,” manager Bud Black said. “He’s hitting and playing good defense at a premium position.”

Díaz, though, has a combination of statistics and incumbency.

Last year, Díaz went to the Midsummer Classic as a catching reserve -- the first player at his position to appear in the game in club history.

Díaz is having another strong defensive year, having thrown out 27.8 percent on base-stealing attempts, second among catchers with at least 30 starts. But the Rockies value his bat enough to keep him in the lineup as designated hitter -- like Wednesday.

Díaz appeared in a career-high 141 games last season, including a Rockies-record 126 games behind the plate. While he had career highs in hits (130), doubles (25), RBIs (72), walks (34) and total bases (199), he entered ‘24 believing he could better his .267 batting average and .725 OPS.

While playing sporadically with the Pirates (2015-19), Díaz looked for consistency on both sides. The Rockies signed him before the 2020 season and built his game piece by piece at the alternate training site before playing him in 26 games and making him the primary catcher in 2021. Díaz grew into an All-Star, and last season, concentrated on advice from hitting coach Hensley Meulens -- push the defensive responsibilities out of his head when it came time to hitting.

Days like Wednesday, as DH, take it all off his mind.

“I’ve gotten used to it,” Díaz said. “The mentality has to be different. When I DH, I just worry about hitting.”

Jacob Stallings, a former teammate with the Pirates who shares catching duties, has seen Díaz gradually eliminate the rough edges from his game.

“In Pittsburgh, he was kind of streaky -- he always had the ability but it didn’t come out quite as much,” Stallings said. “Since he’s come here, he’s made a couple adjustments that have really helped him be more consistent. It’s been fun. We work really well together and he’s having another great year.”

The last two games against the Reds have shown Díaz’s offensive maturation.

Tuesday, Reds righty Frankie Montas held the Rockies hitless until Díaz lined a 1-1 pitch into left-center to open the seventh with a double, the first of his two hits in the 4-1 loss. Díaz is not big on walking (11 this season) but he uses that to his advantage.

“He’s unique in a sense,” Meulens said. “He can put balls in play that not everybody can put in play -- off the plate and up.

“You don’t want to teach that because it works against him when he thinks he can reach some pitches that aren’t hittable. But he’s got great bat-to-ball skills. I’ll take him anytime.”

Since starting the season in the sixth spot in the batting order, Díaz has batted consistently in the fourth position in the order (37 times in his 42 starts since first hitting fourth on April 6). For a lineup that has been working around injuries to Nolan Jones and Kris Bryant, and plugging in youth, Díaz finds himself one of the guys who receives extra attention on opponents’ scouting reports.

“I feel happy to be in that position,” Díaz said. “I try to have a plan, look for something in the zone, be early and try to recognize the pitch.”