After throwing two innings on Monday, Diaz will be available for Puerto Rico on Wednesday night
PEORIA, Ariz. — Edwin Diaz will be allowed to pitch if needed in the World Baseball Classic championship game.
The Mariners have given their young fireballing closer permission to pitch for Puerto Rico on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium . And it’s impossible to see a scenario where Puerto Rico’s manager Edwin Rodriguez wouldn’t use his best reliever.
“He is going to pitch for the Puerto Rican team if they need him tomorrow,” manager Scott Servais confirmed.
The Puerto Rican Baseball Federation released a tweet earlier in the day, saying that Diaz had been granted permission for one inning.
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General manager Jerry Dipoto had multiple discussions with Puerto Rico’s general manager Alex Cora and Diaz’s representatives about the situation. He ultimately cleared Diaz to pitch. Neither Dipoto nor Servais would confirm if Diaz is on any sort of restrictions like a pitch limit. But it does seem unlikely it would be for multiple innings.
“I don’t know about all that out yet,” Servais said.
There was some debate about Diaz’s availability after he threw two innings t0 get the win in Monday night’s semifinal vs. the Netherlands. Both Dipoto and Servais weren’t exactly doing cartwheels when Diaz trotted back out for the 11th inning after striking out the side in the 10th.
“I’m glad he didn’t throw many pitches,” Servais said. “It worked out okay.”
After the game, Diaz told reporters he would ask the Mariners for permission to pitch in the championship game.
“I am ready to throw on Wednesday, to pitch on Wednesday,” he told reporters postgame. “I’m going to talk to my organization to see because it’s the last game. And I think that I have a day of rest because tomorrow we’re off. So I’m going to try to talk to the organization and see if they give me the break, because they have worked with me fine, and I hope they say yes.”
While the risk of injury is always a factor and a concern, the Mariners were in a tough spot with no easy decision. There is obvious risk in letting him pitch in another high-emotion, high-leverage situation so early in the season. But if they refused and Puerto Rico lost the game late because he wasn’t allowed to pitch, Diaz, who went to WBC games as a kid and dreamed of playing for his country, could have carried that resentment toward the organization with him all season.
In the end, the experience of pitching in such meaningful, high-pressure situations was something the Mariners believe will be something useful for Diaz down the road, like in the playoffs.
“There will be big games before we get to October,” Servais said. “There will be a lot of them. But that ninth inning as the closer and getting those last three outs and the adrenaline going, with what he’s going through now, it should be a big, big benefit for him. We’ll benefit from that quite a bit down the road.”
Diaz was brilliant on Monday night. Brought in during a 3-3 game in the top of the 10th. He came out pumping fastballs in the high 90s to the Netherland’s hitters. He struck out Jurickson Profar on a 97 mph fastball to start the inning.
Then things got interesting facing one-time Mariners’ prospect Wladmir Balentien. Diaz fired a first-pitch fastball at 98 mph that Balentien took a vicious swing at and fouled back. Balentien, who had homered earlier in the game and is a home run champion in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, stared down Diaz from the box, giving him a look like he just missed the pitch while nodding at the pitcher.
The two combatants did it again on the second pitch. Diaz fired a 100 mph BB at Balentien, who again hacked at it angrily, fouling it back. Balentien followed with another stare at Diaz and more head nodding and could be seen saying, “I’m on that.”
Diaz didn’t back down. In homage to his childhood hero Pedro Martinez, he ran a 99 mph fastball up and in on the 0-2 count. Balentien backed out of the way of the pitch with some level of histrionics and then pointed at his head and shouted to Diaz about throwing near it. Diaz shouted back at Balentien, who continued to jaw while being restrained by Puerto Rico catcher Yadier Molina. Players from both benches started to spill onto the field, standing and waiting until the confrontation cooled.
After some calming words of encouragement from longtime friend Carlos Correa, Diaz stepped back on the mound, seething with fury and pulsing with adrenaline. Would he throw a slider and buckle the knees of Balentien?
Diaz fired a pinpoint 99 mph bullet on the outside corner that froze Balentien for strike three.
“How he responded to when the guys came off the bench to the next pitch, the only way to get through that is you have to experience it,” Servais said.
Following the punch out, Diaz screamed and stomped around the mound in celebration.
“I like players to show emotion,” Servais said. “I do not think it’s a bad thing at all. If the guys in the other dugout have an issue with it, then that’s their issue. It’s how the game should be played. I think it’s why people are watching these games.”
Diaz then needed just four pitches — all fastballs above 97 mph –to strike out Jonathan Schoop to end the inning. It elicited another scream from Diaz and some chest pounding as he stormed off the mound toward his teammates.
“It’s going to happen,” Servais said. “It’s competitive nature. These are the best in the world at what they do and there is a lot of pride they are playing for right now which is great. That’s why you see a lot of emotion come out in these games. It doesn’t surprise me at all.”
It seemed as though Diaz would be done after the emotional, 15-pitch, fastball-filled inning. But when Puerto Rico emerged from the dugout in the top of the 11th. Diaz jogged to the mound. It was something the Mariners had not expected or wanted to see. But Diaz made them breathe easier. With the inning starting with runners on first and second for the international tiebreaker, the Netherlands sacrifice bunted them into scoring position. Diaz then decided to walk the next hitter — Yurendell Decaster — to load the bases for a possible inning-ending double play. He did just that on his first pitch to Curt Smith, who hit a groundball to Javy Baez at second for the double play.
“I was glad it was a short inning,” Servais said.
Diaz will return to Peoria on Thursday and will have a few days off from games.