Three Ps paved left-handed reliever Jake Diekman’s path to the Royals bullpen. That’s proximity, power and Palmer.
The text messages began to flood Diekman’s phone moments after his signing became official on Wednesday evening. The Royals, who added right-handed reliever Brad Boxberger last week, continued their quest to construct a formidable and experienced bullpen and erase the memory of last season’s faulty relief corps.
The Royals were ever present in Diekman’s hometown of Wymore in southeast Nebraska, an area overrun with fans of the ballclub. That’s why Diekman, 32, said he spent all night trying to respond to everyone who was part of a “massive overload” or messages he received.
“It’s about two and a half hours south of home,” Diekman said. “We have a four-month old baby girl, so to be comfortable where we’re going to play is huge.”
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Diekman and his wife, Amanda, welcomed Palmer in October. They make their home just outside of Lincoln.
The 6-foot-4 Diekman pitched in 71 games last season combined between stints with the Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks. He logged 17 holds, two saves and 11.14 strikeouts per nine innings with a 4.73 ERA (1.40 on the road).
Following a mid-season trade to the Diamondbacks, Diekman allowed 12 earned runs in 14 1/3 innings and opponents batted .300 against him.
Diekman attributed part of his post-trade struggles to falling out of whack mechanically and part of them to added stress of relocating his family while his wife was seven months pregnant.
He was in the middle of his fourth season with the Rangers when traded. Ironically, Diekman can now throw a baseball from the Royals’ spring training facility to the Rangers’ facility in neighboring complexes in Surprise.
“Last year, I had good numbers in Texas,” Diekman said. “The last two months is what people look at, so I came in here with a lot to prove and I really like that it’s right across the street (from Texas’ facility).”
Diekman claimed he’s “good with” wherever he pitches in the pecking order out of the bullpen although he loves the idea of pitching at the back end, and he’s happy to pass on lessons he’s learned to younger and less experienced pitchers in the Royals bullpen.
During his seven-year major-league career, Diekman has gone 14-15 with seven saves, a 3.75 ERA and 383 strikeouts in 312 innings. He ranks second in the majors among active lefties in career strikeout rate (11.05) with at least 300.0 innings.
“We’ve seen Diekman for the last couple years,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We know that he’s a dogged competitor on the mound. He’s got really, really good stuff from the left side. He comes right at you. We’ve seen him, so we pretty much don’t need to be told because we’ve seen him enough in years past.”
Diekman, diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when he was 10, had surgery in 2017 to replace part of his colon. He said he feels “amazing” after coming into last year a little heavier than ideal — 230 pounds compared to 210.
Royals infielder and last year’s major-league leader in hits Whit Merrifield described Diekman as “nasty.” Diekman’s sinking fastball averaged 94.9 mph according to MLB Statcast data, and he complements that with a slider.
“I think we felt like we were a little deficient in the power department,” Yost said of his team’s revamped bullpen. “You can get a lot of strikeouts by not having a big fastball, right? But we felt like we needed a little more power in the back end of our ‘pen coming into this year.”