Before the top of the seventh inning on Friday night, the bullpen door at Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark opened to reveal a relief pitcher who was unusual in several ways.
The first was that after 12 seasons in the minors – in which he had pitched in 340 games for a total of 14 different affiliates of the Dodgers, Rangers, Orioles, Pirates and Reds – he was finally, at the age of 30, making his big league debut.
The second was that he instantly became one of the largest human beings ever to step onto a major league field. The appropriately nicknamed Jumbo Diaz (real name: Jose) stands 6’4” and weighs some 278 pounds, making him, according to Baseball Reference’s necessarily inexact records, something like the 19th heaviest player in league history.
Had Diaz’s debut come a couple of years ago, he would have easily earned the heavyweight title over the 320-pound Walter Young, who appeared in 14 games at first base and DH for the Orioles in 2005. Diaz, a native of La Romana, Dominican Republic, topped out at 347 pounds until, as he told Mark Sheldon of MLB.com earlier on Friday, he decided to make some serious changes with the help of a doctor and a dietician:
“I stopped eating late in the night after winter ball games,” Diaz said. “I cut the rice, fried food, fast food and tried eating healthy – a lot of fruit, salad and that kind of stuff. It made me better now.”
Diaz pitched to a 1.35 ERA in Triple-A Louisville, with 31 strikeouts in 33.1 innings, and was tapped to replace the demoted Tony Cingrani in an attempt to shore up the Reds' faltering bullpen that had a combined ERA of 3.97, the National League’s second worst. Thanks largely to an eight-run second inning, the Reds had a 9-5 lead on the Blue Jays when manager Bryan Price made the call to the 'pen for which Diaz had been waiting his entire life.
Alas, Diaz’s first appearance did not go as well as he or anyone might have hoped. In one inning of work, Diaz threw 31 pitches – 13 of which came in at either 98 or 99 MPH– and allowed three runs on a pair of homers by third baseman Brett Lawrie and pinch hitter Juan Francisco. You can watch Francisco’s blast here:
Price turned to an even larger behemoth to start the following inning: Jonathan Broxton, who at 295 pounds is the game’s heaviest pitcher ever. Broxton, though, couldn’t keep the first-place Jays down either, as he allowed an RBI double to Dioner Navarro that tied the game. Cincinnati’s bullpen woes continued from there, as Aroldis Chapman and Sam LeCure combined to yield five runs in the top of the ninth to ensure that a game in which the Reds held an early eight-run lead ended up as a 14-9 defeat. Edwin Encarnacion led the way for Toronto, as he usually does, as his two homers and six RBIs put him in the major league lead in both categories, at 23 and 68.
It was, even so, a memorably Jumbo-sized night in the Queen City.