Diaz accepts platoon role in right
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
By Ron Musselman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Matt Diaz doesn't expect to dazzle fans in his first season with the Pirates, but he does plan to earn their respect.

"I guess the scouting report on me would probably be that I don't do anything that's going to wow you," he said. "But I bring it every day. I play hard."

Diaz, 33, was signed to a two-year, $4.25 million free-agent deal by the Pirates in the offseason after the Atlanta Braves decided not to tender him a contract. He will platoon in right field with Garrett Jones.

[IMGR]http://i55.tinypic.com/1ow3n6.jpg[/IMGR]Diaz, who also has played some left field this spring, batted .250 with a .302 on-base percentage for the Braves last season. He hit seven home runs and drove in 31 runs in 84 games, but he missed a month with a right thumb injury.

Diaz, a career .301 hitter who spent the past five seasons with the Braves, had much better numbers in 2009. He batted .313, with 13 homers and 58 RBIs in 125 games, and had a .390 on-base percentage.

He doesn't mind sharing playing time in right with Jones, who also can play first base.

Diaz, 6 feet and 215 pounds, bats right-handed, while Jones (6-4, 240) hits left-handed.

"I've always been a platoon guy," said Diaz, who also has played for Tampa Bay and Kansas City. "I usually start out the year as a platoon guy and then by August, I'm playing every day. That's how it's worked the past five years.

"Obviously, every competitor wants to play every day. I think Garrett would be lying if he said he wasn't hoping to play everyday, too. The good news is, when you're platooning with a guy who brings a different skill set to the table, it makes it a whole lot easier to platoon and root for that guy.

"Garrett has an element of power that I don't bring. I don't necessarily strike fear into pitchers. He does. He can change the game with one swing."

Jones, 29, spent his first full season in the majors with the Pirates in 2010. He led the team in games played (158), at-bats (592), home runs (21) and RBIs (86). He hit .247.

He was the opening day starter in right last season but has struggled to hit left-handers in his career, compiling a .210 average. He is hitting .282 against right-handers.

That's the main reason the punchless Pirates signed Diaz, who has a .335 career average against left-handers. His average drops to .269 against right-handers.

"We're excited about what we can do out there," Jones said. "When he's out there, he kills lefties, and I'll probably get most of the at-bats against righties. We're looking to do some damage and be offensive contributors."

Diaz did some damage Monday from the cleanup spot at McKechnie Field. He belted his first home run of the spring, a two-run shot off left-hander David Price in the fourth inning of a 4-2 loss to the Rays.

Those two runs represented the Pirates' run-production in the past 21 innings.

Diaz finished 2 for 3, boosting his spring average to .211.

"We got him for a number of reasons," manager Clint Hurdle said. "His average against left-handed pitching, plus the dynamic of spending some time in right field. A bat off the bench. He's also got some leadership skills in his own right, has played on some teams that have done some things. He's a good addition."

Diaz was a 17th-round draft pick of Tampa Bay in 1999 after helping Florida State twice reach the College World Series, including the title game his final season.

But he appeared in just 48 games in his first seven pro seasons before breaking into the majors full time in 2006 with the Braves.

"I have been frustrated in my career," Diaz said. "I tried to retire in the minor leagues a few times, but my wife [Leslee] told me she didn't want to be married to that 40-year old guy that said, `Man, I bet I could have played in the majors.'

"She made me stick it out. And I'm glad I did."

[HIGH-LIGHT]Injury update[/HIGH-LIGHT]

Shortstop Ronny Cedeno (bruised right middle finger) returned to the starting lineup Monday after missing the past three games. He collected his first hit of the spring and finished 1 for 3 with a run. ... Outfielder John Bowker (sore left wrist) sat out Monday and likely will be out again today. ...Infielder Josh Rodriguez (tightness in right quad) is expected to miss a few days.

[HIGH-LIGHT]Buried treasure[/HIGH-LIGHT]

[HIGH-LIGHT][/HIGH-LIGHT] Starting pitcher Ross Ohlendorf recorded a no-decision against Tampa Bay in his second spring start. He allowed three hits and one run in three innings. He struck out two and walked one while facing most of the Ray's regulars, including Johnny Damon, Evan Longoria, Manny Ramirez and B.J. Upton. "I was glad that they did it," Ohlendorf. "It was nice to face better hitters."

[HIGH-LIGHT][/HIGH-LIGHT] Right-handed reliever Evan Meek, who has been slowed by tightness in his calf, made his first appearance of the spring for the Pirates. He allowed one walk in a scoreless inning. "It was good to get back out there after being out two weeks," he said. "Just to get back in the game, it's a little different than throwing bullpens and live batting practices. So, it was good. It was fun."

[HIGH-LIGHT][/HIGH-LIGHT] Losing pitcher Tyler Yates (0-1) had a rough outing, yielding two runs, two walks and a hit in 2/3 of an inning.

[HIGH-LIGHT][/HIGH-LIGHT] Catcher Chris Snyder threw out two of three baserunners who tried to steal against him.