Edwin Diaz has fully ascended – The Denver Post


As Jarred Kelenic slowly but surely finds his swing for the Mariners’ Triple-A team, trying to climb his way back after an early-season demotion, one of the men for whom he was traded is having a season for the ages.

Several elements of the Mets’ season have felt unprecedented, from spending huge money on free agents that have actually paid off to a first half that’s only been topped by the 1986 champions. But at the end of games, the Mets have someone who could not only make club history, but also MLB history.

After his four-out, four-strikeout save on Tuesday night, Edwin Diaz is striking out 17.9 batters per nine innings. If he keeps up this pace, Diaz will break Aroldis Chapman’s record for strikeouts per nine innings. Among pitchers to throw at least 50 innings in a season, Chapman’s 17.7 K/9 from 2014 stands alone.

Two members of the Mets played with Diaz when they were coming up together in Seattle. To them, this stuff is old hat.

“He was that dominant in Seattle,” said Daniel Vogelbach, who was Diaz’s teammate from 2016 to 2018. “I don’t think anything’s really changed.”

Taijuan Walker remembers seeing Diaz make his MLB debut for the Mariners in 2016 and immediately thinking the skinny kid from Puerto Rico was destined for greatness.

“Literally his first outing, I remember all the players on the top step watching him,” Walker recalled. “Every pitch he threw, we were like, ‘Wow, this dude is nasty.’ He was pumping 102, 103 easy.”

Diaz has only hit 102 miles per hour twice this year, both on June 25 in Miami, but he’s found a new way to wow people. This is now his seventh year in The Show, and he’s throwing his slider more than the fastball for the first time in his career. A staggering 55% of the closer’s total pitches have been a slider this year, and the numbers don’t lie. It’s a damn good pitch.

Opponents are hitting .146 and slugging .175 against it. The slider has been the finishing move on 62 of his 81 strikeouts and is the main reason for his 51.6% strikeout percentage. Chapman’s 52.5% from 2014 is also the record for a pitcher that threw at least 50 innings. If not for Arizona’s Daulton Varsho, who took Diaz deep in his seventh outing of the year, there would be no extra base hits off the slider in 2022.

“I feel like this year, instead of a thrower he’s a pitcher now,” Walker summarized. “He knows what he needs to do. His slider is really good and he throws his fastball when he needs to.”

But what does the man himself think about the season he’s having, which has probably made a few hitters consider a career change.

“I’m prepared to face anyone,” Diaz said after vanquishing the Yankees on Tuesday. “I’m thinking I’m the best on the mound.”

It took a while for Diaz to reach his final form. Even as Vogelbach, Walker and others watched him take the bull by the horns as a flamethrowing rookie, improvements needed to be made. Like many young relievers, Diaz dealt with bouts of home run- and walk-itis in his early days with the M’s before reaching his third year and turning in one of the best seasons a reliever has ever had.

Then came the trade to the Mets, and his first year with his new team was a tragedy wrapped in a fiasco. His seven blown saves in 2019 were tied for third-most in the league, and a 5.59 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 15 home runs in 58 innings had many fans calling for his head. Three years later, he’s been arguably the most important pitcher on the team.

“I don’t think he’s gotta show us anything,” Buck Showalter said on Tuesday. “Edwin’s been a rock for us. I don’t know if there’s a better guy at the end of games this year than him. It’s been an honor to watch him pitch this year.”

Showalter is correct. By Wins Above Replacement, Diaz is in fact the best reliever in the game. Diaz has also recorded 68 strikeouts in the ninth inning; the next closest person is Josh Hader at 56.

“When he’s coming in, you feel pretty good about it,” said Adam Ottavino, who’s been Diaz’s primary setup man this year. “It feels pretty automatic. I’ve played with a lot of great relief pitchers, but the run he’s on right now, it’s different. He’s striking everybody out, making it look really easy. We all know it’s not easy. So, to watch it like that is fun to see.”

The dominance hasn’t been limited to just the ninth inning, though. Diaz has come into a game five times in the eighth inning as Showalter plays the matchup rather than the inning. Rigid bullpen usage can often be a death sentence for managers. Just ask Showalter, who lost the 2016 AL Wild Card Game and his job after keeping Zack Britton in the bullpen during a tie game on the road. If the Mets find themselves in a similar situation this postseason, expect Diaz and his trumpets to be playing whenever he’s needed.

“Whatever they ask me to do,” Diaz said after notching his 22nd save on Tuesday. “They asked me for four outs tonight, I came and did my job.”

That job is not an easy one, but if anyone can make closing games look like a walk in the park, it’s 2022 Edwin Diaz.

“He’s just a strikeout machine,” said Vogelbach, who has never faced Diaz in a real game. “I’ve been lucky.”



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