Locking down opposing hitters in late game situations is a luxury that every pitching staff hopes to have, especially if it finds itself in a multitude of close games going down to the wire. For the Louisville Bats, steady late game pitching has been a staple over the first half of the 2014 campaign, with Ryan Dennick and Jose Diaz providing the bedrock for a team that has seen 20 of their games decided by one run.
When tight games have worked their way into the final innings, the Bats have turned to Dennick and "Jumbo" Diaz, who haven't disappointed, helping the Bats to a 12-8 record in such contests. The lefty-righty combination has provided lethal 1-2 punch for Louisville, with Dennick playing the role of setup man and Diaz slamming the door in the ninth.The duo has been stalwarts since the season's outset, and currently tie for the league lead in appearances with 30. With Dennick and Diaz leading the charge late, Louisville has been almost perfect in 2014 when taking a lead deep into the game, posting a 31-1 record when ahead after the seventh inning.
Appearances isn't the only statistic where the right-handed Diaz ranks near the top of the league, as his 18 saves are also best in the International League. Called Jumbo due to his hefty frame, Diaz has feasted on the ninth inning all season long, missing out on just one save opportunity, thanks to an imposing 1.35 ERA and a 3-to-1 K/BB ratio. Diaz had a trio of saves during a recent Bats' five-game winning streak, twice slamming the door to give Louisville one run victories.
All season long, Diaz, a Dominican Republic native, has been manager Jim Riggleman's number one option for the ninth inning, earning six saves in both April and May. Diaz already has that total this month, as the Bats have stormed to a scorching 12-6 start in June.
The 30 year-old Diaz was equally effective last yearout of the Louisville bullpen, leading the team with 13 saves in just 14 opportunities.In what was his first season with the Reds' franchise, his 1.66 ERA was a team best, and earned him a spot on the Bats roster for the duration of the 2013 campaign.
The southpaw Dennick has been the primary reason the Bats lead the league in holds, as his 14 are tops in the IL, giving Louisville a left-handed option out of the pen that has retired the first batter he has faced 86% of the time.
In his second season in the Reds' system, the 27 year-old Dennick has started to show why the team selected him in the 2012 Rule 5 Draft. After a sizzling first month when he posted a 0.79 ERA, Dennick has once again stepped up his game in June, not allowing a run in any of his six appearances thus far. In Monday night's 3-1 victory over Durham, Dennick earned his second victory when he got the Bats out of an eighth-inning, two-on, one-out jam.
With the season just past the halfway point and Louisville playing its best ball of the season, there is no reason to think the Bats, at 38-36, can't make a push towards the playoffs. If the team can crack the case on what has been an uneven performance from the rest of their pitching staff, they should be able to hand some leads to Dennick and Diaz, who can anchor the back end and continue to do what they have done over the season's first three months.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.