Lancaster, California —— It’s been a long, long time coming for Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Jairo Diaz, who suffered through Tommy John surgery and the grueling, uncertain rehab aftermath over the past 15 months, never able to throw in an organized, official professional baseball game.
That all changed on a chilly Monday night in Lancaster, California, and just a few pitches after he made his way to the mound for the first time since 2015, hitters were put on notice: Jairo Diaz is back.
Well, sort of.
The righty threw just nine pitches—seven for strikes—in a clean, quiet eighth inning outing for the Lancaster JetHawks that proved the perfect way to dip his toe back into the professional baseball waters after months and months of rehab and recovery from the surgery. Facing the top three hitters in the San Jose Giants‘ lineup, Diaz made quick work with the help of catcher Chris Rabago:
1 — Shortstop Jalen Miller singles to right field. MiLB.com says it was a “line drive.” It wasn’t.
2 — Two pitches later, with second baseman Dillon Dobson batting, Miller tries to steal second on Diaz and is promptly gunned down by Rabago from back behind the plate. Miller is a quick kid and a great athlete, so it’s a testament to Diaz that he varied his tempo and sped his delivery enough to help create the caught stealing—and doubly a testament to Rabago who did all the hard work to finish off Miller at second.
3 — Dobson then strikes out a few pitches later on an absolutely nasty slider in the dirt. Diaz didn’t look like he was throwing it as hard as he usually does, but that thing had a lot of late life, and Dobson had no chance.
4 — Finally, Bryan Reynolds, the Giants’ #3 prospect, hits a weak ground ball back to Diaz to end the inning. As you can see in the video, Diaz takes his sweet time and barely throws out Reynolds who, to his credit, really hustled up the line at the end of a pretty cold night in Lancaster with his team down four runs.
A few notes on Diaz from Monday night:
— He’s far from hitting peak velocities yet. While the radar gun in The Hangar wasn’t working for the game, and I was clearly in the third base dugout well rather than the stands to see a scout’s radar readings, it was obvious Diaz isn’t yet built back to the upper 90s. That should be expected, especially for a first outing and especially on a relatively cold night in Lancaster. (Yes, it gets cold in certain places in California in April.)
— What I did see, and what is far more important than velocity right now, is a loose and easy arm motion, a consistent release point, consistent mechanics and tempo to the plate, and no outward signs of pain, discomfort, or any other problems for the man throwing his first competitive pitch in about 18 months. Diaz looked relaxed and ready out on the mound, and this was a big hurdle for him. On to the next one.
— In that same vein, Diaz deserves some credit for persevering through a very, very long bottom of the seventh. He got up and sat down several times to warm up during that inning, which felt like it would never end, and for a moment I was worried they were going to burn him in the bullpen and give him the game night off. The fact that he could physically stand to get hot a few times in the ‘pen only to wait and wait and wait bodes well for his arm strength and where the health of his elbow is right now.
— I’ll know more Wednesday when I’m back in Lancaster, and I’ll see if Diaz is still here to pitch again (presumably he won’t yet go on back-to-back days). I can’t imagine he’d be sent off to Triple-A Albuquerque after just one High-A appearance, but I suppose you never know. We’ll see.
For now, the big takeaway: Jairo Diaz took a huge step forward today, and though it may not seem like much, nine pitches (and seven strikes!) against High-A hitters must be a sight for sore eyes for the Colorado Rockies’ front office. In all likelihood it’ll take another few weeks to lengthen Diaz out enough to be ready for the stresses of the big leagues, but he’s well on his way now. Congratulations to him for fighting through a long, difficult injury process.
For those who like this type of thing, here are a bunch of Jairo Diaz pitching GIFs, too: