TORONTO - In the span of 12 days, Jake Diekman went from being one of the most difficult pitchers in baseball to hit a home run off of to a guy who was getting way too accustomed to craning his neck and watching one of his pitches fly over an outfield wall.
Diekman allowed three home runs in a span of six appearances late last month. Before the first one, a game-winning grand slam to Atlanta's Dan Uggla on April 14, Diekman had allowed just two home runs in his first 84 major league games.
During that run, which began on May 15, 2012, Randy Choate was the only major league pitcher who had allowed fewer homers (minimum 84 games), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"After the third one, I was like, this is absolutely [insane]," Diekman said yesterday in Toronto. "You really have to look at yourself in the mirror, and self evaluate, and be like, 'That was my fault.' "
Diekman doesn't like watching video of his failures. As he put it, he'd rather watch every single strikeout he's racked up "on a loop." But upon further examination, the hard-throwing lefty said the home runs weren't a result of choosing slider over fastball but instead of simple execution.
"I feel like the pitch selection was right, I just didn't execute where it should have been," he said. "Instead of trying to bounce it on top of the plate, I hung it, or it's out over the plate. And you could see it spin better."
The veterans on the Phillies pitching staff reminded the reliever to "trust his [stuff]," so Diekman did just that and got back into a groove in the last week. Diekman retired all nine Toronto batters he faced Monday and Tuesday and, in his last three outings, struck out seven of the 15 batters he faced while walking just one.
And he has not allowed a home run in May.
"You just have to stay aggressive," Diekman said. "The last couple of outings at home, in my mind, whoever stepped in the box, it was, 'All right, if we have to fight, we're gonna have to fight.' It wasn't like I wasn't aggressive in the other outings. I was just like, 'All right, [bleep] it, whatever happens, happens. Here's my best [stuff], I'm going to come right after your type-mentality.' "
On Monday afternoon, when a minor right groin injury forced him out of the starting lineup, Jimmy Rollins was asked about his status for the coming days and admitted that "turf [didn't] sound very good right about now."
Although the Blue Jays are switching to grass in the next few years, when Toronto's Arena Football League team's lease is up at the Rogers Centre, they currently are one of two major league teams playing on turf. Manager Ryne Sandberg wouldn't say whether the playing surface was a factor, but when he penciled Rollins into his starting lineup for the first time since Sunday, he slotted the Gold Glove shortstop into the designated hitter spot.
"What he wanted [was] to take a pregame yesterday on defense, so he'll do a step above that pregame on the defensive side [today], go a little bit more side to side," Sandberg said before the Phillies took batting practice before yesterday's game. "I'm encouraged with him DH-ing tonight. That's a step in the right direction. He's feeling a lot better today than yesterday."
Jayson Nix started in Rollins' place at shortstop.
The other notable news from Sandberg's lineup against lefthander Mark Buehrle: Ryan Howard was not in the starting nine; John Mayberry Jr. was at first base. Howard had started 16 straight games and in 30 of the team's 31 games entering play last night.
The Phillies may eventually have an optimal righthanded-hitting platoon option for Howard: Darin Ruf will begin an official rehab assignment at Class A Clearwater today.
Ruf, who suffered a rib-cage injury a week before the end of spring training, got seven at-bats in five innings of an extended spring training game on Tuesday. He has played in four to five extended games within the last week, getting work at both first base and in the outfield.
Assistant GM Scott Proefrock didn't have a timetable on Ruf's return; he said Ruf's play will likely dictate that. Ruf is likely to return at some point before the end of the month, if not sooner.
Ryne Sandberg has spent a good portion of his pregame chats with the media this week talking about infield shifts. But an interesting question was raised yesterday: Could he shift outfield arms if time and circumstance make it possible?
The Phillies lost Tuesday night's game by one run when Juan Francisco hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield in the 10th inning. Ben Revere made an attempt to throw out the runner, Melky Cabrera, but his less-than-strong arm made for a weak effort. There was no play at the plate.
But in watching the play live - and then again in video replay - Marlon Byrd was also closing in on the fly ball until giving way to Revere. Could Byrd have called Revere off, and then given the team a better opportunity to nab the lead runner at the plate?
"That's an option if [Byrd] was getting over there; when it was caught, there was maybe 15 feet difference," Sandberg said. "I'm not sure . . . It seemed to me like Byrdie was still trying to get over there. But those can be done. With that depth, from my angle, I'm not sure if it made any difference. But you want the better arm to give it a shot."