A 'Diamond' in the Rough

DES MOINES – Thomas Diamond spent last season in the Texas Rangers organization as a reliever after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2007. When the Cubs picked him up on September 4, 2009 after five years in the Rangers' system, he was moved back into the starting rotation at Class AAA Iowa for the start of the 2010 season.

"I love it (starting). It's what I've done my whole career," said Diamond, the Rangers' first-round draft pick (10th overall) in 2004. "It's what I've always wanted to do. It's nice to get back to the starting rotation."

When the Cubs claimed Diamond off waivers, they told him to take off the remaining two weeks of the season and get some rest. The Cubs wanted to use him as a starter again and wanted him to play winter ball in the Mexican League over the offseason.

"I wanted to show them what I had and that they picked up a quality player, and hopefully I've taken steps towards doing that," said Diamond.

In 13 starts this season, Diamond is third in the Pacific Coast League in ERA (2.34), third in WHIP (1.10), second in strikeouts (68 in 69 1/3 innings) and has compiled a 5-2 record.

Diamond has had to adapt to throwing a fastball that hits around 91-92 mph, as opposed to the high 90s velocity he brought before the surgery.

"It's not overpowering velocity wise, but his fastball has still got another gear that most people don't have," said Iowa pitching coach Mike Mason. "He's deceptively quick, his body is not going fast, but his ball is shooting out likes it's shot out of a cannon."

Mason said that what has made Diamond effective this season has been the development of his breaking pitches and not having to rely on his fastball as much.

"I never really threw very many breaking balls and now I don't question any time in the count where I can throw it," said Diamond. "They're (Triple-A hitters) just one step away (from the big leagues), and a lot of these guys have played in the big leagues. You've just got to keep them off balance and not let them sit on one pitch."

"He's kind of like a classic ‘old school' pitcher," Mason said of Diamond.

Mason described ‘old school' pitching as when a pitcher throws a few breaking balls in the dirt and then fires a fastball shoulder-high in the zone.

"Even though he's not throwing 95-96 (mph) anymore, if you watch the game he's blowing it by guys and you'll see the radar gun say 90 mph. And then you look at the hitter and they're going, ‘there's no way that's 90 mph.' He's just got that gift," said Mason.

Diamond underwent a 14-month recovery after surgery to get back to where he is today.

"It was more mental than physical. Everybody is going to come back from Tommy John one way or another," said Diamond. "It's just a matter of do you come back the same, a little better, or just not the same as before?"

"He's a hard-working kid and a lot of the time when you come back from Tommy John, you see who's tough," said Mason. "They've had to come through basically redoing their arm and it's not an easy transition to get your arm strength and stuff back, and he's come through it."

Diamond was rated the Texas Rangers' top prospect by Baseball America in 2005 and was named the Rangers' Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year that same season.

"The one thing that Nolan Ryan told me about it (Tommy John) was the moment that I can mentally tell myself I can let the ball go and I won't get hurt again is when I'll be fully recovered from it. That took me up until last year," said Diamond.

As for how his elbow is feeling this season and if he is worried about reinjuring himself again, Diamond said that's not even a question anymore.

"He's passed that (test)," said Mason.

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