Tough road trip rejuvenates 'Pigs Diekman

(Photo: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports)

After making his major league debut last season, left-hander Jake Diekman has had a season full of ups and downs at Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2013. A tough road trip to Durham and Norfolk may have given him a new-found approach that will work for him.

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs returned home from a 3-5 road trip to Durham and Norfolk and picked up a much needed win over Rochester. The win was big for a team that lost four straight games on the trip by a combined score of 38-16 and then had to hang on for an 8-7 win in the final game at Norfolk to salvage one game in that series. Before the game, manager Dave Brundage talked about how good it was to be back from the trip that felt much longer than eight days. Getting the win in the opener of their four-game series with Rochester was big for the club.

For reliever Jake Diekman, the trip seemed especially long, especially after he allowed three runs in 1/3 of an inning at Norfolk this past Tuesday, blowing his second save attempt of the season. In some respects though, the trip and Diekman's struggles against the Tides may have been just what the doctor ordered.

"Me and [Zach] Miner, we think we need to get in some asses from now on. We're just going to try to piss hitters off as much as possible," said Diekman who pitched an impressive ninth inning against Rochester for his fourth save of the season. "It's pretty much about getting pissed off. Really taking to heart that they're trying to take bread off my table."

Brundage noticed a different swagger to Diekman when he strolled out of the bullpen in the ninth inning against the Red Wings. "I think he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder after that last outing. Norfolk had a lot of right-handers and he struggled and I know he wanted to be back in there and that's what I want to see from our guys. He's an uncomfortable at-bat whether you're a righty or a lefty and when he's on, I wouldn't want to face him no matter how I batted."

One of the big issues for the 26-year old left-hander has been his struggles against right-handed hitters this season. Righties are hitting .319 against Diekman, while lefties have scuffled their way along to just a .150 average. With his new approach, Diekman isn't concerned about what the numbers have been up to now.

"I don't care if they're lefty or righty, not right now," said Diekman. "It's just attack mode. My mechanics are fine and I feel good, but basically, I just feel like I have to get pissed off."

Since opening day this season, Diekman has struggled to get his ERA under control. It seemed like he had figured things out when he went 6 1/3 innings without allowing a run and dropped his ERA from 5.79 on April 16th to 2.79 on April 25th. Then, he was bombed for five earned runs in 1 1/3 innings at Louisville and has struggled with consistency. After recording the save against Rochester, his season ERA sits at 6.38 in 18 relief appearances.

"I think I let a couple of bad outings in the beginning of the year hurt my mood and get me down and I'm just trying to kick somebody's ass now," explained Diekman. "That whole road trip [to Durham and Norfolk] sucked."

Complicating the situation for Diekman is the fact that the Phillies have recalled two other pitchers - Justin De Fratus and B.J. Rosenberg - over the past week and Diekman has been overlooked. He was also overlooked earlier when reliever Joe Savery made two trips back-and-forth to Philadelphia. Diekman pitched in 32 games for the Phillies last season and posted a very respectable 3.95 ERA against major league hitters. While he won't admit it, being overlooked for a return to the big league club is never easy.

"Of course, you're happy for them, because they totally deserve it. De Fratus and B.J. were pitching lights out, it's awesome; it does suck though because they were both on my golf team," lamented Diekman. "But yeah, you always want to put yourself in a position to be called up."

For his part, the trip to Durham and Norfolk is over and Diekman is looking to jump-start his season. He's hopeful that the rest of his team can rally around the rough start (18-24) that Lehigh Valley has had to their season and turn things around before things get too late. The truth is that nearly every IronPigs pitcher was hit hard on the trip, with the exception of starter Ethan Martin, who pitched relatively well in his final start in Norfolk. "He [Martin] pitched his ass off. That guy's nasty," said Diekman of his teammate. "We're good. We can put runs on the board and our starters are good, but that trip sucked. Everyone just needs to blank out those things."


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