PITTSBURGH – Former Brave Matt Diaz watched from a locker or two away last year as his friend Jonny Venters put together one of the best seasons of any reliever in the National League last year. He found out for himself Tuesday night exactly what the hubbub is about.
Diaz struck out in the eighth inning as a pinch hitter against Venters in the Pirates 2-0 loss, just one night after he’d gone out for dinner with Venters, fellow Pirate and former Brave Chris Resop, and their wives.
“He tried to talk me into the fact that he can’t throw strikes,” Diaz said of their dinner conversation. “And he throws a nasty slider first pitch on the black. I’m like ‘Oh gosh.’ He’s good, he’s really good. He obviously has unbelievable stuff, and it looks like he’s starting to harness it.”
After Tuesday night, Venters was leading all qualified major league relievers with a .100 (9-for-90) opponents’ batting average. His 0.63 ERA was second among all qualified major league relievers.
If there’s a better left-handed reliever in the league right now, Diaz – who has come off the bench to face left-handers for the better part of five years – is hard-pressed to name one.
Hong-Chih Kuo, who made the All-Star game with the Dodgers’ last year? “He doesn’t have the movement Venters does,” Diaz said.
J.C. Romero in his heyday setting up for Brad Lidge?
“Jonny probably won’t be as controversial in the offseason,” Diaz said, referring to Romero’s 50-game suspension in 2009 for testing positive for a banned substance.
“A lot of left-handed relievers are designed to get lefties out, but standing in there as a righty last night you get why righties don’t hit him very well either,” Diaz said. “He’s just nasty. The fastball I swung on and hit in their dugout somehow felt like it moved up and away. And no one has that pitch, and then his slider disappears down and in on a righty.”