Diamond Goes Home

NEW ORLEANS – Thomas Diamond had hoped to be pitching in the major leagues instead of at Triple-A six years after he was drafted with the 10th overall pick by the Texas Rangers out of the University of New Orleans in 2004. But an elbow injury and Tommy John surgery forced Diamond, now with the Cubs, to reinvent himself.

The Cubs signed the 27-year-old Diamond in September of last year after he was designated for assignment by the Rangers. No longer a power pitcher, his fastball now tops out around 92 mph instead of the upper 90s.

But Diamond has proven himself quite effective at times in his first season as a starter since the surgery. After spending most of 2009 in the bullpen with Double-A Frisco in the Rangers' system, he leads the Pacific Coast League with 87 strikeouts and a .203 average against this season.

His 2.53 ERA ranks third in the league. Moreover, he is fourth in WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) and has the fewest baserunners per nine innings ratio.

Diamond made his 16th start of the season Tuesday at Zephyr Field in front of many of his family and longtime friends and fans. The Zephyrs defeated Iowa, 7-0, in a rain-shortened five-inning game, but Diamond received a no-decision.

He lasted four innings, allowing one hit. He tied a season high with five walks, however, and struck out seven batters. Diamond threw 88 pitches, 49 strikes.

"He was a little out of the zone and threw a lot of pitches in the four innings he was out there," Iowa manager Ryne Sandberg said of Diamond.

"When he's ahead of the hitters and throwing more strikes, he keeps his pitch count down and can possibly go longer in the games. But today he just seemed to be missing with pitches and fell behind hitters, and that resulted in the walks."

Sandberg had wanted to get Diamond a start in front of his hometown crowd. Diamond did not pitch here when Iowa made the trip back in May.

The Zephyrs drew an announced crowd of 6,111 for Tuesday's game, many of them seated behind the Iowa dugout down the third base line, and Diamond said he was appreciative of the amount of support he received.

"I had a big (guest) pass list," Diamond said. "I know everybody here wanted to see the Zephyrs win and I wanted to put a little damper on that and get a sweep of the series, but everybody really cheered me on and I'm really grateful for that."

Despite throwing four scoreless innings and allowing just one hit, it was far from Diamond's best outing. He allowed at least one walk in every inning and had to pitch his way out of a pair of jams with runners on base.

In the second inning, he allowed a leadoff walk to shortstop Donnie Murphy and a single to right fielder Bryan Petersen. Diamond then rallied to strike out the next three batters.

In the fourth, he allowed two walks, then got Brad Davis to hit into an infield fly and struck out first baseman Mark Saccomanno to end the inning.

Diamond's seven strikeouts were one shy of his season high.

"I really didn't have much location at all," Diamond said. "I threw some pitches that were close. Most of them were just around the zone. Today was just one of those days where I had to be patient with myself out there, just trying to take it one pitch at a time."

"For most of it, it was just a battle," the pitcher added. "I couldn't throw strikes consistently. I felt like I had good stuff coming out of the bullpen. Somewhere between there and the field, I started rushing and leaving my backside way too much. The balls were all over the place. I'm just glad I did enough to give up no runs."

The five walks were especially troubling to Diamond, who now more than ever relies on command to pitch effectively and go deep into games.

"It didn't show today, but I've been trying to throw more strikes," he said. "I threw strikes when I had to basically, and not when I wanted to. Lately I've been getting in the zone early and trying to get them out with my pitches late. Today I was having to throw pitches over the middle of the plate. That's what the difference was today."

No longer a top prospect, Diamond says the window of opportunity to get to the big leagues becomes more closed off by the day for a pitcher of his background.

His outing Tuesday probably won't do much to persuade or dissuade the Cubs in any decision they might make on his longterm future in their organization.

"I just turned 27, but I just hope somebody gives me an opportunity somewhere down the road," Diamond said. "You know as well as I do that I'm not on the 40-man roster right now, so it would be tough for me to get a call. There has to be some pretty good circumstances to get me up there."

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