LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Matt Diaz doesn’t think his power has dissipated due to age, and over the winter he took steps to try to prove it.
After seeing his slugging percentage plummet more than 100 points in 2011 and home-run total drop to zero – he hit 20 in the previous two seasons combined — Diaz decided to change his physique.
Not by getting bigger in his upper body, but by slimming down.
Through one week of spring-training batting practice, first against coaches and in the past two days against pitchers, the 33-year-old outfielder said he feels a difference.
“Really good, free and easy on the swing,” Diaz said. “I had some power when I was hitting at the college I’ve been hitting at [during the offseason], but then when I came out here, hitting nice baseballs, I was like, ‘Wow, I do have power.’”
Diaz hit .263 with just a .625 OPS and 20 RBIs in 251 at-bats last season with the Pirates and Braves, who reacquired him in an Aug. 31 trade. He has a year left on the two-year contract he signed with Pittsburgh after leaving Atlanta as a free agent.
A potential return to form by Diaz is significant for the Braves, who could use him in left field when Martin Prado is at third base, and also play or pinch-hit him at other times against left-handed pitchers.
Diaz has thrived against lefties most of his career, with a .329 average and .824 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS). But last season his OPS dipped to .692 vs. lefties.
After his power numbers slipped some in 2010, he bulked up the following winter through heavier weightlifting. The strategy backfired, he said, as his bat speed slowed.
Diaz slimmed down this winter to his weight in 2009, when he hit .313 with career-bests of 13 homers, .390 OBP, .878 OPS and 58 RBIs in 425 plate appearances.
“I knew coming in [to this camp] that my bat speed was better,” he said. “The first time I hit [in later November], I actually was able to hit my back with my bat on my follow-through. Last year I couldn’t get to the point where I finished my swing where my bat was hitting my back. So I knew my flexibility was back.”