'Jumbo' Off the DL and Throwing Bullets

Once more Jose Diaz -- "Jumbo" to all -- is answering the call in the bullpen. Which means that everybody in the ballpark starts playing some numbers games. Like, how many strikeouts does he have, anyway? Or, just what does that fast ball register on the gun? Or, the favorite- how much does this guy really weigh?

There were a couple of times in Jumbo's career that they thought of making him a starting pitcher -- in 2002 with three clubs and at the start of 2003. But after he compiled a 7.04 ERA in that year with South Georgia, he was again installed in the bullpen and that's where he resides now.

He was having quite a time last year. He began at Columbus where he appeared in 28 games, saving 14 of those. He threw 34 innings, striking out get this -- 59 frustrated batters. So, it was up to Vero Beach where he was enjoying an equally fine time- nine games, six saves; 11 innings, 15 K's.

However, his arm was hurting so he was sent to L.A. and the Jobe-Kerlan Clinic where he was examined. An operation was recommended but he resisted for awhile. Finally, it was the only answer so he had Tommy John surgery.

Now, he's back and if it slowed him up any, it doesn't show. First in a couple of tune-up efforts with the Gulf Coast team, now with Vero Beach again, he's been lighting up the gun and piling up the K's as of yore.

Jumbo doesn't race in from the 'pen nor does he stroll. It's more of a rolling gait much like John Wayne used to amble to the rescue. Like the Duke, he knows how to solve an unpleasant situation when he gets there. Oh, the bottom of his jersey is often out as he arrives. Umpires sometimes have to caution him to tuck it in. Being tidy is not his forte Hey, did Beau Brummell ever have a nasty four-seamer?

The first time he appeared for Vero, he faced just three batters. All swung and missed in vain. He was clocked at 98 during that effort. The second time, he came in for an inning and faced the minimum once more as this trio also fanned the air in vain. The radar gun read 99 on some of those offerings.

His third time, somebody finally hit a weak grounder to second. Then, another ground ball that went through first baseman Cory Dunlap's legs for an error. That runner tired to steal only to discover it's not the easy route when Jumbo's working for his pitches arrive plateward so quickly that the catcher had plenty of time to throw him out. The next guy waved and missed. Heck, only one strikeout. Why no wonder, he was only reaching 97 in this one.

It should be pointed out that Jumbo doesn't only throw a fast ball. He also throws a slider that has a mean break to it just to upset timing. A changeup? He hasn't messed with that so far. No need to.

He says he feels fine and,, although they've been properly cautious in their usage of him, he's ready to go at least every other day. So far, he hasn't been called on to save a game although that time can't be far off.

In the meantime, there's that other question. Just what is Jumbo size? The book says 240. He's 6-4, by the way. Oh, maybe, when he signed at age 17 but he's 21 now and hasn't passed up too many buffet spreads in that time. So, you ask the man himself. "295," is the reply.

Well, he can be something of a put-on artist but that figure seems much closer to the truth than the book number. If he keeps flogging the ball by the enemy, though, they might not be inclined to call Jenny Craig or, heaven forbid, Richard Simmons. Maybe like Samson and his locks, take away the poundage and you take away his strength.

So, eat hearty, Jumbo. And hit 100 the next time out.