Diekman Striking Out Hitters and Colitis
Baseball isn’t the only thing on Phillies reliever Jake Diekman‘s mind on game days. The hard throwing lefty setup man suffers from ulcerative colitis, a disease that causes inflammation in the lining of the large intestine, as well as the rectum. The cause of the disease remains unknown, and there is no known cure for the disorder. Diekman, now 28, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 10.
Diekman, born in Wymore, Nebraska, played baseball at the collegiate level for Doane College (Crete, NE) and Cloud County Community College (Concordia, KS) before being drafted by the Phillies in the 30th round of the 2007 MLB draft. He signed the contract offered by the Phillies despite plans to play baseball at the University of Nebraska.
After signing with the Phils, Diekman started his professional career pitching for GCL Phillies. He finished the 2007 season pitching for the Williamsport Crosscutters of the short season New York-Penn League.
His first season in the minors was impressive. Between Williamsport and the GCL Phillies, Diekman had a 2.72 ERA in 59 innings over 13 games. Even more noteworthy, Diekman struck out 46 batters while holding them to a .203 batting average.
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The next two seasons were not as successful for the lefty, as he fought command issues. Searching for answers, Diekman and the organization agreed that a change in arm slot and a move to the bullpen were the best courses of action. Diekman ultimately developed his trademark sidearm throwing motion, and his results improved.
In 2010, Diekman threw 23.2 innings for Low-A Lakewood, owning a 1.90 ERA while striking out 30. His success earned him a promotion to High-A Clearwater. He finished the year with a 2.91 ERA over 55.2 innings between both teams, with batters hitting only .187 against him.
Diekman made the jump to Double-A Reading in 2011, where he would spend the entire season. Throwing 65 innings, he compiled a 3.05 ERA and recorded 83 punch-outs to go with 44 walks. During the spring of 2012, Diekman started to catch the eye of Phillies coaches with his mid 90s fastball and devastating slider.
After starting that 2012 season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Diekman soon received a call-up to the big leagues, making his major league debut against the Houston Astros on May 15, 2012. Diekman got the win in his debut, throwing 1.1 innings, allowing no baserunners and striking out three. Diekman would finish his first MLB season with a 3.95 ERA in 27.1 innings.
Diekman split time between the majors and Triple-A in 2013, but finished the final months of the season strong with the big club. The lanky left-hander collected a 1.98 ERA in August, and followed it up with a 1.08 ERA in September, his final eight appearances being scoreless.
Entering 2014 with high expectations, Diekman became one of manager Ryne Sandberg‘s go-to late-inning options. Teaming with Justin De Fratus, rookie fireballer Ken Giles, and closer Jonathan Papelbon to form the back-end of the bullpen, this group of reliever soon became one of the most feared in the National League.
On September 1st, 2014 in a game against the Atlanta Braves, Diekman, Giles, and Papelbon preserved Cole Hamels six hitless innings to account for the first combined no-hitter in team history. In his one inning of work that day, Diekman struck out two of the three batters he faced. The southpaw finished 2014 with a 3.80 ERA in 71 innings, fanning 100.
“Through flare-ups and stuff, it can be really, really painful” ~ Diekman
Along with his mitt-popping fastball and hard-biting slider that looks even more intimidating because of his quirky motion and 6’4” frame, Diekman has added a changeup to his arsenal. And although Diekman’s 2015 spring has been forgettable, (he owns a 12.77 ERA in 7.1 innings) he will likely again be Sandberg’s seventh inning guy in 2015.
Diekman has shown the ability to get right-handed batters out in addition to left-handed batters, and the Phillies don’t seem worried about his ineffectiveness thus far this spring. Sandberg pointed out that both Giles and Diekman feed off adrenaline, something that can be hard to build up in a Grapefruit League game.
Even with his recent success, Diekman remains active in the community and his fight against ulcerative colitis. Through his social media accounts, he raises awareness by selling “Gut it Out” shirts, a motto which he has adopted. Proceeds from the shirt sales benefit the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.
In a recent interview with 6ABC’s Jeff Skversky, Diekman discussed his ongoing battle with the disease. As Skversky found out, Diekman takes 20 pills a day to combat its symptoms. “Through flare-ups and stuff, it can be really, really painful,” Diekman told Skversky.
Approaching a late-game pitching situation the same way he fights ulcerative colitis has proved to be beneficial for Diekman. Look for him to continue his recent progress in 2015 as a part of what should be a strong Phillies bullpen.