Scott Diamond's changed outlook on baseball was put to the test early at Minnesota Twins' spring training in March.
Management had seen enough of the Canadian left-hander after three Grapefruit League appearances, sending Diamond to the team's AAA affiliate in Rochester, N.Y.
"Even though I felt they didn't give me the best look, I knew the starting rotation was set, and with lefties in the [bullpen] ... I knew realistically going in I probably wasn't going to break [camp] with the team," Diamond said over the phone from Minnesota.
Confident of a return to the major leagues where he endured mixed results last season, Diamond reported to Rochester with the intent to build up his innings at the request of Twins management.
He also adopted a one-step-at-a-time approach between his starts and chose to remain positive about all things on and off the field rather than over thinking, which plagued his game in recent years.
"I always felt that I was calculating and analyzing and probably reading into situations too much," said Diamond, the eighth Canadian to play for the Twins. "This year my outlook is taking a step back and taking a deep breath. I know it's easier said than done but I feel just the way I've approached the game this year is a lot easier.
"By having that mentality and just knowing that I did the best I could when I go into my [next] start I feel a lot more focused and under control."
It's evident in Diamond's results, with the southpaw dominating at times since his return to the major leagues in early May. Despite dropping his past two decisions, the Guelph, Ont., native boasts a 5-3 record and 2.57 earned-run average in nine starts with the Twins compared to 1-5, 5.08 in seven starts in 2011.
Opponents are hitting .279 against Diamond, but the six-foot-three, 220-pounder has demonstrated pinpoint control with only eight walks in 56 innings while striking out 30. He had twice as many walks (17) and 19 punchouts in 39 innings pitched in the majors last season.
On May 4, Diamond welcomed the chance to bolster a sagging Twins outfit - Minnesota's starters had combined for a 6.73 ERA - when management gave the young left-hander another chance. He arrived with positive energy and said his new teammates were glad to see a new face in the clubhouse.
"Before, I wasn't a rah-rah guy," he said. "I just let my business take care of itself. I'm taking [things] one step at a time and because of that I've become a little bit more of a rah-rah guy."
Diamond is clearly in a better place than 18 months ago when the Atlanta Braves left the undrafted free agent unprotected on their 40-man roster after a successful 2010 campaign split between AA and AAA (8-7, 3.46, 123 strikeouts in 158 2/3 innings).
Two months later, Minnesota pounced and selected Diamond in the Rule 5 draft but needed to keep the pitcher in the majors for the entire 2011 season to retain his rights. That wasn't possible once Diamond developed a blister on his thumb, so Minnesota dealt hard-throwing prospect Billy Bullock to keep him in the organization.
"The Braves didn't really give me a chance and ... I wanted to prove I belonged here [in Minnesota]," said Diamond. "They made a trade for me to stay in the organization and that meant a lot to me. But I put a little pressure on myself and I was trying to be perfect from Game 1. I lost control of my tempo and how I wanted to handle things."
The 25-year-old Diamond said his game started to unravel at 2011 spring training. After Twins manager Ron Gardenhire repeatedly reminded his pitcher to slow down his delivery, he attempted to address the issue during the regular season at Rochester but struggled, posting a 4-14 record and 5.56 ERA in 23 starts.
The results weren't much better after Diamond rejoined the Twins on July 28, winning just once in seven starts as the first Guelph native in 128 years, since Bob Emslie in 1883, to start a major league game. He allowed 51 hits in 39 innings and had a tendency to pitch well for four or five innings before crumbling.
It wasn't until then that he understood the importance of controlling the rhythm and pace of a game. The biggest adjustment to pitching in the big leagues, Diamond noted, isn't the calibre of hitter but the atmosphere, crowd and the way the game can speed up on you.
"It seemed if I got into a little trouble," he said, "I wasn't the best at controlling, not so much my emotions, but my thoughts, and if [the game] would speed up on me I would almost tighten up and not execute as well as I had hoped."
Nowadays, Diamond can be seen staring into the crowd to compose himself between pitches or batters, focused on the next pitch or out rather than dwelling on his previous struggles.
"I focus on my breathing and try to get back to that neutral feeling so I can think about the pitch rather than how my mechanics are feeling or the last pitch I threw," said Diamond. "It's really tough. I haven't mastered it by any means but I don't think any pitcher has, and that's what I'll continue to strive for."
Entering 2012 spring training, Diamond had prepared himself as far as breathing and the mental side of the game, so he strived to make his curveball a more effective pitch against left-handed hitters.
"So far, so good," said Diamond. "It's not so much learning the basics now but rather learning about hitters, pitching and how to continue to work through games. It's always adjustments on the fly.
Setting up Diamond's curve has been a four-seam fastball he threw 66.95 per cent of the time through June 18. Sitting around 89-91 miles per hour and topping out at 92, the pitch has late, cutting movement - but not as much sink as typical four-seamers - which contributed largely to an impressive 61.4 per cent ground ball rate through June 18.
Unaware of his ground ball success, Diamond explained his previous approach was to get batters out "any way he could."
"I don't know if [the fastball will] sink or cut but I feel I've been able to execute my fastball," said Diamond, "and that's what's leading to a lot of ground balls. As long as I extend [my arm] through [the release] ... I feel like [batters] are just going to pound [the ball] into the ground.
"I still consider myself that greenhorn that nobody really knows about, so I'm trying to take full advantage of it."
It's all part of Diamond's changed outlook on baseball.
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