Scott Diamond throws strikes. The Minnesota Twins left-hander walked just 1.61 batters per nine innings last year, lowest in the American League among qualified pitchers. After beginning the current campaign on the disabled list, his rate is a puny 1.2 in four starts.
The 26-year-old control artist also doesn’t log many strikeouts. In 173 innings last year, his K-rate was 4.68. That ranked him second from the bottom in the A.L., ahead of only Henderson Alvarez. So far this season he’s a tick better at 5.2.
Can Diamond match last year’s success — a 3.54 ERA and team-best 12 wins — with his pitch-to-contact ways? Some are skeptical, but he didn’t exactly rely on smoke and mirrors in his rookie season. He had a respectable 3.94 FIP and his .292 BABIP wasn‘t far from league average. His 53.4 ground-ball rate should be sustainable despite the absence of a two-seam fastball in his repertoire.
Diamond takes the mound tonight against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Scott Diamond on his approach: “I get guys out by throwing strikes. I make them feel uncomfortable by getting ahead and playing the numbers game — the odds of them getting themselves out. We had a pitcher last year, P.J. Walters, who worked a lot with Dave Duncan when he was with the Cardinals. I don’t know if this number is exact, but he said when hitters swing at the first pitch they hit something like .158. If I get ahead early, I have them in a hole.
“My mentality for getting ahead is simply throwing a strike down in the zone. A lot of that is based on scouting guys beforehand. I’m looking at my approach against theirs and seeing where I want to locate. But I’m also keeping it simple in terms of halves of the plate. I’m not locating to a particular sector. A lot of scouting reports say my ball doesn’t move a lot, but based on the reactions I get from hitters, I throw to general sectors and let my ball do what it needs to do.”
On his ground-ball rate: “I think a lot of it comes from my tilt. I get on top of the ball and throw toward the bottom of the zone. I’ve heard that I’m pretty high in the game on pitches down in the zone. I feel that’s kind of been the key to my success for ground-ball outs.
“My fastball is a four-seam — it‘s not a two. There’s nothing unique about the grip, the ball just comes out with a natural cut. When I’m executing well, it’s moving late. I’ve never thrown an actual cutter, because I already get cut on my four-seam. There’d be no point in trying to force extra motion.”
On his off-speed pitches: “I throw a curve-slurve combination. I’ll adjust it based on the ball path I want to get. I’ll try to execute it different ways based on my previous pitches and what hitters have a tendency to do in different counts.
“I don’t change the grip. What I change is my hand path — the way my hand will finish on the pitch. For instance, on a fastball my palm is coming down toward the hitter. On my curveball, as a lefty it would face toward the third base side. If I’m trying to get some slider, I’m keeping that fastball hand path as long as I can before I turn it over toward the third base side.
“My changeup is a four-seam circle. It’s kind of based on a cutter, because of how my four-seam cuts in. What I’m trying to focus on is getting something that tails away from the right-handed batters.
“Speed differential is something I’m working on with my changeup. It has probably been a little harder than I want it to be, especially this year. That’s kind of adjusting the grip as well as the hand path.”
On his strikeout rate: “We joke about that. It’s a stat that’s really big. If you can keep guys from putting the ball in play, you’re obviously going to keep them off base. At the same time, based on my attributes and capabilities, it’s something I can’t really focus on. It might mean my numbers won’t be as great as they could be, but as long as I keep getting ground balls, I’ll be happy with the results.
‘We focus a lot on ground balls, so when I came over here [from the Braves organization] my focus became being down in the zone. That was kind of where I started to make the adjustment to being a little more broad on that first-pitch strike. Coming to the Twins encouraged me to be a lot more aggressive in the zone, rather than trying to pitch for more strikeouts.
“That said, you can throw too many strikes. I’ve had that problem. I faced the Rangers two starts ago and kind of got myself into that. I’m learning to do a better job of throwing fewer strikes to expand the hitter’s strike zone.”
On video and numbers: “I look at a lot of video to see how lefties similar to me have thrown against the team we’re facing. I’ll also look at the numbers to see who’s hot and who’s really aggressive and will chase late in the count. Those are probably my three big things. I should be able to make adjustments off the rest.
“Glen Perkins has been trying to get me into more numbers. My whole thing is that if I can see a problem, I want to be able to solve it. Perk is really good at seeing numbers and understanding what type of hitter someone is. That’s what I find the most interesting — if you can put all the numbers together and break them down to become more effective.”