Mackey: Is Scott Diamond experiencing a rough patch or reality?
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After mostly coasting through a rock solid rookie campaign last year, Minnesota Twins left-hander Scott Diamond is experiencing regular turbulence in 2013.
Unable to stop a barrage of doubles on Friday night, Diamond was chased from his start against the Detroit Tigers with two outs in the sixth inning. He was charged with four earned runs, which raised his ERA to 5.29 through 12 starts - nearly two full runs higher than the 3.54 mark he posted in 2012.
Perhaps most alarming is the fact that Diamond failed to complete six innings for the seventh time already this season - one more than all of last season.
Going deep into games was Diamond's calling card last year, but his last seven-inning start this season came on May 7.
Why the struggles?
"First off, he's coming off the elbow thing, so he was a little behind in spring training, which made him a little behind at the start of the season, but that's behind us now," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said Saturday on his weekly 1500 ESPN radio show.
"I think he is not pitching ahead enough for me. And you cannot - with the type of stuff that Scott has, he has to pitch ahead and get strike one more often than not."
According to Fangraphs.com, Diamond's first-pitch strike rate is down slightly. Perhaps more importantly, his opponents aren't biting on as many pitches out of the zone, which might explain why -- among 98 qualified starting pitchers -- no one has a lower strikeout rate than Diamond, who has fanned just 4.1 batters per nine innings, which is down from his already low 4.7 mark last season. Combine this with more batted balls going through for hits (.339 batting average on balls in play) and it's easy to see why Diamond can't cruise deep into games.
Diamond already walked a thin line last year by pitching so well despite rarely inducing whiffs. This year he has been unable to put away hitters, especially the second and third trips through the batting order, as evidenced by 27 of Diamond's 39 earned runs allowed coming in the fourth, fifth and/or sixth innings.
Friday night against Detroit was no different.
"There wasn't enough damage control," Ryan said. "That's about the only thing I'd say about (Friday) night's game. Even though things started to speed up on him, if we could have kept it to one or two or so, that would have been fine and we could come back. Unfortunately we didn't hit anyways."
Ryan added, optimistically, "We haven't quite gotten there yet (with Diamond), but I think we will."
But over the past five seasons, the only starting pitcher to post a sub-4.00 ERA (collectively, since 2008) while striking out fewer than 5.0 batters per nine innings is Mark Buehrle (3.94).
So it's possible Diamond is just regressing toward his pitch-to-contact peers.