Looking at Jake Diekman’s numbers with the BlueClaws in 2009, one might see a somewhat pedestrian season, a 2-0 record and a 4.09 ERA with an opponents batting average of .266. But you have to look a little deeper to see what was truly a remarkable turnaruond for the lefty.
After the first half was complete, Diekman, who appeared in just two games from May 22 through June 21, had an ERA of 7.09 and opponents were hitting .333 against him. During the break, he threw a bullpen session, which was typical, but this session had an atypical aspect to it. He threw sidearm. It changed his career.
Diekman came back a new pitcher in the second half, throwing 1.1 scoreless innings on June 28th and went on to allow just 4 ER in 29 innings (1.77) in the second half, holding opponents to a batting average of .186. After that June 28th game, Phillies adviser Dallas Green, after watching Diekman’s first game as a side-armer, said he thought Diekman could be a situational lefty in the big leagues.
He was right. Diekman was called up to the Phillies Friday. When he makes his debut, he’ll be come the 43rd player to go From the Shore to the Show, as we say here in Lakewood, and he might have had the bumpiest journey.
A rocky beginning for Diekman saw him start 2008 with Lakewood but finish with Williamsport. The beginning of his 2009 season didn’t go according to plan, but the change in arm angle catapulted him through the system: to Clearwater in 2010, Reading in 2011 (where lefties hit .090 against him) and Lehigh this year, where he gave up one run in 15.1 innings pitched.
Here is an interview we did with Dusty Wathan (then Lakewood’s manager) in August of 2009, about six weeks into the side-arming career of Diekman.
“He’s got a lot of confidence right now and thinks he can get anyone out, and that’s half the battle. When you’re throwing from the side at 90 mph and you can control a breaking ball and get it over the plate, you don’t see that every day, especially at this level.”
That was the one thing that was unanimous about Diekman when he dropped his arm angle: everyone was super-impressed that when he did that, no velocity was sacrificed. In fact, he’s now up to 93-94, so he’s throwing harder then he ever was before.
The Phillies had to make a decision on Diekman after last season so they sent him to face the game’s best prospects in the Arizona Fall League. He gave up one run in 11.1 innings with 14 strikeouts, enough for the Phillies to put him on their 40-man roster. He almost made the team out of spring training, and his pitching coach, Rich Dubee, loves him.
“I asked him first if he had an agent,” Dubee said. “He told me he did. I said, ‘Fire him. Because I’ll jump on and be your agent and hopefully I’ll be able to retire soon.’ I think he’s got tremendous upside. Seriously. That’s what I told him. I expect to see him this year. If the call comes, I expect him to be ready.”
The call has come. And Diekman is ready.
“It was probably the best feeling I ever felt in my entire life,” Diekman said hours before Friday’s game at Citizens Bank Park against the San Diego Padres. “When I found out I called my dad right away, and making him cry was pretty cool.”
Indeed, and the BlueClaws are ecstatic for Diekman too. Good luck!