Twins hope lefty Diamond can revamp staff

MINNEAPOLIS — Go ahead. Cue the punny headlines.

You could go with “A Diamond in the rough.” Or perhaps “A Diamond is forever.” Maybe “Nothing sparkles like a Diamond” is more your speed.

Whatever you choose to call Scott Diamond’s 2012 debut with the Twins, make sure you call it one thing: impressive.

For a team so desperately needing a strong outing from a starting pitcher, Minnesota got one Tuesday from Diamond. The 25-year-old left-hander twirled a dandy at Target Field, holding the visiting Los Angeles Angels scoreless through seven innings in the Twins’ 5-0 victory. He allowed just four hits — three singles and a double — while striking out six and walking just one.

It marked the first time all season that a Twins pitcher had started a game with six scoreless innings. It was also the first time all season that Minnesota held an opponent scoreless.

The Twins can thank Diamond for that.

“I guess if you draw a baseball game up, that’s pretty much the way you do it,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “You score early, you give your starter a little breathing room and he takes it and was pretty much strike one all night long. … He was in command of the baseball game.”

Given how Diamond had pitched this season at Triple-A Rochester before his promotion, Tuesday’s impressive start shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. Diamond was 4-1 with a 2.60 ERA in six starts with the Red Wings. That included 26 strikeouts and just seven walks in 34 2/3 innings.

“He did the exact same thing that he was doing down there, pumping first-pitch strikes and working ahead and using that breaking ball as an out pitch,” said Twins catcher Drew Butera, who was behind the plate Tuesday and caught Diamond twice this year in Rochester.

Diamond did have one outlier in his six Triple-A starts this season — he gave up seven runs on 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings on April 29 against Buffalo. Prior to that outing he had allowed just three earned runs in his first four starts combined.

“I think I was just up in the zone a little bit. I honestly don’t think I had the best pitch sequences, I guess, to some of the hitters,” Diamond said Monday of his lone shaky outing. “I think it was the first time I’d faced them all year. I knew a lot of those hitters from last year, or at least they knew me. I didn’t perform the best.”

Diamond put that start behind him, and it eventually led to a trip back to the majors. Now, the question is whether he can stick with the Twins.

Tuesday’s outing made a strong case for Minnesota to keep Diamond around for a while. Right-hander Liam Hendriks was optioned to Rochester and Diamond was called up in his place for a chance to help a Twins rotation that had a Major League-worst ERA of 6.75 prior to Tuesday.

Maybe Diamond will prove to be the shot in the arm this staff needed.

“We have to go day by day with it. It’s a nice start. A big pick-us-up,” Gardenhire said. “Mr. Diamond threw the heck out of the baseball. Tomorrow we’ve got to get somebody else to step up and get us deep into the game again.”

Diamond might not have been in this situation if Scott Baker wasn’t out for the season with a right elbow injury. The Twins originally pegged Hendriks to start in Baker’s place, but Hendriks struggled in four starts — 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA.

So down went Hendriks and up came Diamond, who made seven starts last year with the Twins. He was 1-5 with a 5.08 ERA with Minnesota in 2011 and gave up 51 hits and 17 walks in 39 innings for a WHIP of 1.744. His minor league numbers weren’t any better last season — he finished 2011 with a 4-14 record and an ERA of 5.56.

But something has changed for Diamond since last year. He was reassigned to Triple-A in the middle of spring training to get more innings in camp. So far, the results have translated into a fast start to the 2012 season.

On Tuesday, Diamond was consistently getting ahead of batters. He finished with 11 ground ball outs, six strikeouts and zero fly ball outs. The key seemed to be his fastball.

“Honestly for me, his curveball was just as good last year. I just think his fastball sets that up much better this year,” Butera said. “He’s throwing a little harder and he’s throwing more strikes with it.”

Diamond said he learned quite a bit from his brief stint in the majors last year. He talked quite a bit with veteran starter Carl Pavano about working deep into games and using that mentality every start.

Diamond did so Tuesday, accomplishing something few Minnesota starters have been able to do so far. It resulted in a Twins win and a positive note in an otherwise frustrating start to the season for Minnesota.

“I think all around, the way we played that game was the best we can,” Diamond said. “That was a lot of fun.”

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