FORT MYERS, FLA. – Scott Diamond made 27 starts in 2012, and that led the Twins by 10. Diamond pitched 173 innings and led the Twins by 64. Diamond had a 3.54 ERA, and that was 2.32 runs lower than the cumulative total (5.86) for the pitchers making the other 135 starts.
These numbers tell you the reason that Diamond collected two plaques at the Diamond Awards in January: Twins Pitcher of the Year and Outstanding Rookie. They also dramatize the starting mess that doomed the 2012 Twins to 14th position in the American League for a second consecutive season.
There were 12 pitchers who made starts for the Twins in 2012. Three are gone: Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano and Jason Marquis. Three are non-rostered invitees: Nick Blackburn, P.J. Walters and Esmerling Vasquez. Blackburn is also hurt, as is Anthony Swarzak with an injury suffered “horsing around” in a TwinsFest after-party.
Lefthander Brian Duensing (11 starts in 55 appearances) is destined to pitch from the bullpen.
Where does that leave the Twins for survivors of the 2012 conglomerate who are on the big-league roster? Diamond, Liam Hendriks, Cole De Vries and Samuel Deduno.
Put that group with acquisitions Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia, and top prospect Kyle Gibson, back from elbow surgery, and that’s eight with only Diamond as a lefty.
Add it up and you understand what a big deal it is to have Diamond back sooner than later from elbow clean-up surgery that took place in mid-December.
Diamond will have his third bullpen session on Wednesday. The hope is that he’ll be on the mound — for an exhibition, a “B” game or a minor league game — by mid-March.
“I was lifting more [weights] this winter, trying to get a little stronger,” Diamond said. “I had been throwing for a couple of weeks and would lift after that. It was a fluke accident lifting that caused some pain in the elbow.”
Say elbow pain and today’s baseball media and fans shriek, “Torn ligament, Tommy John surgery … aaargh!”
Diamond said: “I knew it wasn’t serious. They found some particles in there and a bone spur that was developing. Dr. [David] Altcheck did the surgery and it was routine.
“I threw off the mound six times, I’m going through the bullpens and everything’s fine. It’s just a question of building up to pitch in a game.”
Rick Anderson confirmed this assessment. “He’s progressing,” the pitching coach said. “He’s getting excited to ramp it up, but we’re following the trainers’ plan.”
Ten days to a game? “I’d think so,” Anderson said.
Diamond was an underdog story from the start. He comes from Guelph, Ontario. The best Division I offer he could get in the States was from SUNY-Binghamton.
He was a top starter at Binghamton, which didn’t get him a mention in the massive MLB draft in 2007. He signed in late August as a free agent with Atlanta — another move that had him a long shot.
“The Braves love power pitchers, no question,” Diamond said. “At the same time, I’m very grateful to the Braves. They gave me a chance. I learned a lot in that organization.”
Diamond reached Class AAA Gwinnett in the summer of 2010, his third professional season. The Twins took him in the Rule 5 draft. That’s the December exercise where teams can select a non-roster player for $50,000 and have to keep him all season or risk returning him for $25,000.
When it becomes apparent a Rule 5er won’t make the club, you hear this annually from clubs not wanting to say the draftee was a bust: “Maybe we’ll try to make a deal to keep him.”
In the case of Diamond, the Twins actually did so — trading hard-throwing reliever Billy Bullock to the Braves after Diamond cleared waivers.
The Twins’ desire to keep Diamond was driven as much by a dearth of left-handed starters in the organization as by any certainty he could make it in the big leagues as a prototypical crafty lefty.
Diamond was the only reliable arm in the Twins’ 12-starter mess of 2012 — and the fact it’s a left arm makes it even more important to have him big-league ready in early April.
“He’s the only lefty in the starting picture, correct?” someone said to Anderson.
The pitching coach’s confirmation was a roll of his eyes.