Yilber Diaz excellent in MLB debut, Diamondbacks lose to Braves in extras

Jul 8, 2024, 8:58 PM | Updated: 10:45 pm

Yilber Diaz...

Starting pitcher Yilber Diaz #45 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning of the MLB game at Chase Field on July 08, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks pitching prospect Yilber Diaz stood tall in his major league debut behind six innings and just one earned run against the Atlanta Braves on Monday at Chase Field.

He did so while executing in high-leverage moments, including a tense situation in the sixth inning.

Diaz brushed National League RBIs leader Marcell Ozuna back with an up-and-in heater then froze the slugger with an executed slider on the outside edge. He stranded two runners to end his quality start and handed it to the bullpen.

The D-backs (45-46) fell short of cashing in on his impressive debut, however, with the Braves (50-39) tying the game in the ninth inning and winning 5-4 in 11 frames.

For the third straight series, the D-backs dropped the opener after a blown save from closer Paul Sewald, who was 11-for-11 before this grueling stretch.

“There’s a lot to unpack today. Yilber making his first appearance at the major league level, he took everything in stride,” manager Torey Lovullo said.

“Everything seemed like business as usual to him, and he goes out there and executes at a very high level. … On a day I felt like we were a little flat after a very emotional road trip, he did exactly what he was supposed to do, was in line to win this baseball game and I handed it off to the bullpen. I can’t say enough good things about him from what I’ve seen.”

Yilber Diaz’s impressive debut

Diaz’s lone blemish through five innings was an Austin Riley solo home run in the first inning. From there, Diaz retired 13 of the next 15 batters, including nine in a row.

He was efficient, attacking with the fastball (58%) that lit up the radar gun up to 98 mph while also executing with his slider. He sat at 60 pitches through five innings.

Diaz faced a two-on, no-outs jam in the third inning with Riley up, but the young pitcher attacked the outside edge to induce weak contact.

“I was simply trying to execute and do the job that I’ve been doing throughout the whole year in the minors. … I was feeling pretty good after the first pitch, or the first strike, things got back to normal and then I went at it just like I normally would,” Diaz said via Spanish interpreter Rolando Valles.

The D-backs let him face the top of the order a third time which led to adversity with Jarred Kelenic on second base and one out. Diaz struck out Riley swinging at the slider, walked Matt Olson and punched out Ozuna. He finished the outing with five strikeouts and one walk.

Diaz said all three of his pitches were working for him.

“The fastball command when he needed it and the curveball-slider combination got into a really good rhythm and was landing,” Lovullo said was working. “The last pitch of the game was a quality slider. They got a really good hitter to take that pitch. The mound presence matched the stuff.”

“I tried to breathe and also self-talk about only execution and take all other thoughts away,” Diaz said via interpreter.

Veteran Jordan Montgomery landing on the 15-day injured list (knee inflammation) retroactive to June 29 created an opening, which the D-backs have used to get a look at prospects Cristian Mena and Diaz.

Diaz struck out 13 batters with no hits or runs allowed in his last start with Triple-A Reno before getting the call.

The right-hander is the eighth Diamondbacks pitcher to throw at least six innings with one or zero earned runs allowed in their MLB debut. When you throw in at least five strikeouts and one or fewer walks, only Ryne Nelson, Drey Jameson and Zack Godley remain on the list.

He is also the 10th D-backs starting pitcher to record a quality start in his MLB debut.

Yilber Diaz’s path to MLB

Diaz took quite a path to the major leagues, from selling candy and cleaning windshields after he left Venezuela to signing with the D-backs at 20 years old. He ascended to Double-A Amarillo in 2023, up to Triple-A Reno this year and hurtled to the major leagues.

“I stopped playing baseball for a little bit, and then once I picked it up, I only had a goal and I wasn’t going to stop until achieving that goal,” Diaz said.

If someone told him five years ago, before he signed with Arizona in 2021, that he would be a major leaguer, a confident Diaz said he would have believed it.

That was quite the first impression, and Lovullo said Diaz will make his next start in line for the Diamondbacks.

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