Diaz ready to 'fight' for bullpen role after breakout '14

Reliever works with Cueto in offseason to prep for bullpen competition

Diaz ready to 'fight' for bullpen role after breakout '14

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds reliever Jumbo Diaz waited more than a dozen years before finally breaking into the Major Leagues last season as a 30-year-old. In a down year for the team, especially the bullpen, Diaz emerged as a nice surprise and showed he belonged.

Diaz wants to make the club out of camp this year, but takes nothing for granted.

"I have to come in this year with the same hunger from last year," Diaz said. "They're giving me an opportunity and I will try to do my best to fight for that spot in the bullpen."

The Reds made some bullpen upgrades by adding Burke Badenhop and Kevin Gregg and have returning relievers like J.J. Hoover, Pedro Villarreal and prospect Michael Lorenzen in the battle for spots. Diaz, who turned 31 on Feb. 27, is considered to be very much in the mix.

"We're counting on him," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "Again, there are no freebies here. We still need guys to come in and they have to look ready to help us in Spring Training."

In 36 appearances for the Reds after his June callup from Triple-A Louisville, Diaz had a 3.38 ERA with 29 hits, 14 walks and 37 strikeouts over 34 2/3 innings. He also stranded 16 of his 19 inherited baserunners and earned a role in higher-leverage situations later in the season.

Jumbo escapes jam

This spring, Diaz has worked in three games. In a "B" game on Thursday, he gave up his first run along with two hits.

"I don't want to get comfortable," Diaz said. "There are a lot of people here competing for a spot in the bullpen. I don't want to say that I've got it."

Last spring, Diaz was a non-roster invite but impressed everyone in camp not only with his pitching but the discipline he showed in the offseason. He dropped 69 pounds as he went from 347 to 278 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame.

Heading into this season, Diaz was home in the Dominican Republic and visited the Reds academy in Boca Chica a couple of times a week to work on his pitches. He often took advice from Reds ace Johnny Cueto, who often visited the academy to help some of the younger pitchers.

"[Cueto] came to me and I said, 'What do I have to do to get better?'" Diaz said. "He said, 'You've got really good stuff, but don't be afraid to throw your fastball inside.'

"My pitches are better. I worked hard in the offseason to get better. I tried to throw my changeup and slider better and down. It's working really good right now. I can really throw my slider and changeup at any time in the count."

Diaz, who can reach the upper 90s with his fastball, is ready to accept any bullpen role he can claim.

"If they want to put me in the sixth, the seventh or any time, I am here to help the team," he said. "Whatever situation they want to put me in, I'm ready for it."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.