Cats' Diaz scratches out seven more zeros

Blue Jays No. 23 prospect allows two hits while fanning eight

Yennsy Diaz, who struck out nine in his previous three starts, added eight more whiffs Tuesday. (Christina Carrillo/New Hampshire Fisher Cats)

By Chris Bumbaca / | May 21, 2019 10:47 PM

It wasn't a complete game this time, but seven scoreless innings will more than do for Yennsy Diaz

Toronto's No. 23 prospect stretched his shutout streak to 15 innings after allowing two hits in Double-A New Hampshire's 5-0 victory over Altoona on Tuesday at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. Diaz whiffed eight and allowed two walks. 

"When a pitcher starts to get on a roll, you hope to ride it as long as you can," Fisher Cats pitching coach Vince Horsman said. "I think it's just a culmination of all the hard work Yennsy's put in, working on the things he needs to work on to be successful."

Video: Fisher Cats' Diaz records eighth K

Coming off a seven-inning, complete-game shutout against Reading in his last start, the right-hander picked up where he left off. A double by Hunter Owen in the second was the lone damage done against him through his first turn of the Curve lineup.

In Horsman's eyes, the development of Diaz's changeup has been a revelation. Although MLB Pipeline ranks his pitch a 45 out of 80, it proved potent against Altoona. 

"His changeup is really coming a long way," the pitching coach said. "He threw a few of them tonight, it was really effective. He was working fastball-change for a lot of the night, only used a handful of breaking balls. It's hard to argue with the results he had out there." 

Diaz (4-3) issued a leadoff free pass to Jared Oliva in the fourth and then plunked Owen with two outs. But he got Jason Delay to fly out to right field and struck out the side in the fifth.

Gameday box score

The Azua, Dominican Republic native put two men on in the sixth, then retired the final five batters he faced. Diaz threw a season-high 98 pitches -- 64 for strikes. He lowered his ERA to 3.14 and WHIP to 1.14, and his .197 opponents' batting average ranks 10th in the Eastern League. 

After whiffing a combined four hitters over his last two outings, Diaz punched out twice that amount Tuesday. A steady diet of fastballs and changeups carried him, Horsman said. 

"I think it's just better quality stuff," he said. "He is taking advantage at times of elevating some fastballs. I think he got about four strikeouts tonight on changeups down. He really had good arm-side action to it. Being able to work that vertical lane, the high fastballs and the changeups down, that's kind of the uptick for the strikeouts." 

This season has marked Diaz's first taste of Double-A. In 2018, he cruised through nine starts for Class A Lansing -- where he garnered Midwest League's April Pitcher of the Month honors -- and started 16 games for Class A Advanced Dunedin, going 5-4 with a 3.52 ERA and 83 strikeouts over 99 2/3 innings. 

Lately, Horsman and Diaz have been striving to achieve a greater consistency in the 6-foot-1 hurler's direction toward home plate. The pitching coach described his motion as a "cross-fire pitcher." Sometimes that leads to a drift in mechanics and causes Diaz to miss his spots, but the duo has found that a straight line to the plate does wonders for him. 

"It's just the side work and in the throwing program," Horsman said. "Just making a note of it. A good practice routine. We kind of let the games take care of themselves. I don't want him thinking mechanics when he's out there pitching. The side work and the throwing program, we're really making a point of emphasis of good balance and good direction to home plate." 

2019 MiLB include

The Jays inked Diaz to a $1.6 million deal on July 3, 2014 -- one day after they signed top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The team added Diaz to its 40-man roster this offseason, not only to protect him in the Rule 5 Draft, but because the 22-year-old was a potentially intriguing bullpen option for the Major League team at some point in 2019. He made two relief appearances last year for Dunedin and already has pitched out of the bullpen once this year for New Hampshire. 

"His stuff plays," Horsman said. "It's just a matter of being consistent and in the strike zone -- the good parts of the strike zone. He gets into trouble when he's kind of middle of the plate, elevated, kind arm-sidish. He pitches it into the bad parts of the top of the strike zone. In our side work, it's about, 'We're going down here, we're going up in this, specific area.'" 

Vinny Nittoli and Jackson McClelland tossed a scoreless inning apiece out of the bullpen to lock down the shutout. 

Christian Williams bashed a three-run homer -- his first of the year -- to key the Fisher Cats' offense. 

Altoona starter Sean Brady (1-4) surrendered three runs -- one earned -- on 10 hits over 6 1/3 innings. 

Chris Bumbaca is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @BOOMbaca. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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