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Edwin Diaz parts the clouds

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A fastball thrown by them, a slider to bind them

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last night’s Mariner game was one of the most frustrating losses of the season. Blowing a four run, and a three run lead, the bullpen’s continued trend of allowing too many baserunners, and a 3-14 night with runners in scoring position all add up to yet another recent game it feels like the Mariners could have easily one.

I don't feel like talking about that loss too much. We as fans are pretty familiar with how losses happens, thanks to the Mariners. Instead I want to take a look at Edwin Diaz, whose 2.2 innings were my highlight of the game.

In his major league debut nine days ago, Diaz threw eleven pitches, and was completely overpowering. His fastball averaged 99.3 MPH, and his slider 88.7. It was exactly what a franchise hopes will happen to a hard-throwing starting pitching prospect moved into relief. The shorter outing allowed Diaz to throw with max effort, and the velocity and subsequent scoreless inning with two strikeouts were dazzling.

Last night, with Taijuan Walker being removed from the game after only three and a third with what the team is calling "posterior tibial tendinitis", Diaz was brought in under different circumstances. I think it’s fair to speculate that coming in the fourth inning rather than the sixth or seventh someone made it clear to Diaz he was being asked to throw more than one inning of relief. You can see him noticeably scale down his velocity in response. Here is last Monday:

Diaz June 14

And here is last night:

Diaz June 6

Tasked with throwing thirty-four pitches rather than eleven Diaz's fastball velocity dipped down into the mortal realm and sat at 95.5 MPH. That's still very fast! But not as fast as we know he can throw. A few takeaways here:

  • Pitching is extremely difficult, and the pressure felt by a young player making his first few major league appearances is immense. Whether by self-correction, quality coaching, or both, Diaz having the understanding of situation and job he was tasked with to allow himself to (slightly) scale back his velocity to allow for a longer appearance is impressive.

    Situational awareness and self control are things we take for granted, until they aren't there. At 22, Diaz appears to have it.
  • The reduced velocity had, at least for a night, almost no impact on Diaz's effectiveness through 2.2 innings. Diaz struck out five, walked none, and allowed only two hits. Of the nineteen times the Rays swung at either his fastball or hard, biting slider only twelve made contact. For the first time in his career, he faced a batter two times in the same game. After allowing a single to Steven Souza Jr. to lead off his outing, Diaz struck him out looking to end it.
With a fastball that approached 102 MPH in his big league debut, Edwin Diaz has been compared to young, huge velocity Mariner relievers like Rafael Soriano, and Mark Lowe. However, while that velocity is rare, precious, and deadly, last night Diaz showed his very best fastball may not be a prerequisite to him succeeding as major league reliever. His two pitch arsenal will almost certainly keep him from running through a lineup multiple times with success, but it also seems likely that is about his only limitation regarding role.

The decision to convert Edwin Diaz to reliever will always be controversial. Teams rarely switch their best pitching prospect to the bullpen without plenty of evidence he cannot succeed as a starter. But through the very beginning of his career Diaz has looked every bit an excellent reliever, capable of succeeding in multiple roles, both with and without his maximum velocity. That's what we needed to see to feel like the team made a good decision, even if we may always wonder if it was the best one.