Diamond’s recovery vital but not rushed

By CRAIG HANDEL
Special to FOXSportsNorth.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. – They may be just a short walk from Hammond Stadium, but the Minnesota Twins practice fields are miles apart in atmosphere.
Instead of about 6,000 fans watching, there’s about 60, which includes, scouts, major-league pitchers who aren’t working and Twins special assistants like Paul Molitor.
But the scene proved to be a perfect place for Scott Diamond. Seeing his first live action of the spring, the Twins’ left-hander struck out three in two innings. He said if everything keeps progressing this well, he’ll keep going every five days with hopes of being available to the team on April 12.
“Obviously, being on the back field is a little different, not as intense,” Diamond said. “You don’t have the music and crowd.
“But yeah, I was pretty happy with it. Everything felt good, everything felt smooth.”
Diamond made 23 pitches, 13 in the first and 10 in the second. A total of 17 were strikes. He kept his cutter on the outer half of the plate and threw a handful of changeups, which he intends to use more this season. 
“I was trying to establish different zones, working inside and out,” he said. “Today wasn’t about results but execution of pitches and controlling the speed of games. 
“But everything has been clean, just a smooth ride.”
The Twins need a smooth ride from Diamond, who has been recovering from bone chips removed from his left elbow in December.
He was the team’s most productive pitcher last season as he led in wins (12), quality starts (16), overall starts (27) and innings pitched (173). Because of those stats, he didn’t need to rush back to prove himself this spring, which meant he didn’t have to hurry.
“You never want to rush back from any injury,” he said. “I was eager to get out and play and get into games, but you gotta be realistic.”
Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said he enjoyed watching Diamond’s development throughout the season and talking to him about it.
“What was fun with him last year,” Anderson said, “Was his growth. We always ask him, ‘Did you learn something today, what did you learn today? How did you make your adjustments? How did you keep your mind set?’
“Adjustments. That’s what pitching is all about. There might be a game where you give up three runs early. That might be too much for some guys, and they’re out in the third inning. He made the adjustment. Or early, if you didn’t have your best stuff, you have to go out and keep your team in the game, keep going.”
As Diamond pointed out, while he faces nine guys three or four times, hitters are facing him three or four times, so it’s a big adjustment in preparation.
“It’s a little more of a chess game from the pitcher’s point of view,” he said. “And you have to make adjustments from hitter to hitter. It definitely makes for a fun matchup, I’ll say that.”
When Diamond arrived in the big leagues, he admitted that his biggest adjustment was facing hitters he grew up admiring.
“The awe factor,” as he called it.
It was time to stopping taking autographs and start getting outs.
“That is one of the things about the big leagues, dealing with guys coming here and saying, ‘This is amazing,’ ” Anderson said. “As you get older, you get over that thing. 
“You gotta get confidence. All it is believing you can do it.”
Besides having regular chats with Anderson, Diamond said he picked the brains of pitchers like Carl Pavano and Kevin Slowey. They gave him tips not only when he got on the mound but when he left it.
“Things like, ‘Don’t take the game home with you or stay calm when things go awry,” he said.
Along with the physical growth from Diamond’s work ethic, Anderson noticed a mental growth during their regular conversations through the questions he asked.
“He’s like a sponge,” Anderson said. “He was one of the kids who took off. It was neat to see with Diamond, how he came into his own. He was one of the babies. He learned and he progressed.”