CLEVELAND -- Yandy Diaz was a pleasant surprise in spring training and earned his way onto the Cleveland Indians’ opening-day roster, and that has not changed in the early part of his first season at the Major League Baseball level.
Although Diaz has had mixed results at the plate, he has come up with several defensive plays at third base for the defending American League Champion Indians (4-3).
“He doesn’t look nervous to me,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think he likes playing baseball, and I think he’s enjoying the opportunity to play here. His at-bats have been really good. There’s a lot of balls that he’s hit at people so far, so his batting average doesn’t show, but the quality of his at-bats have been really good.”
Currently, the Indians’ every-day third baseman, Jose Ramirez, is filling in at second for All-Star Jason Kipnis, who is working his way back from a spring-training shoulder injury, and Diaz has seized his opportunity.
Diaz is hitting .222 (six for 27) with one double, five runs scored and one walk in seven games played. Over 58 full innings, Diaz has made 10 assists and five put-outs, none bigger than in the top of the eighth of a 2-1 win over the Chicago White Sox in the Progressive Field opener Tuesday.
After catcher Geovany Soto singled to right field, pinch hitter Matt Davidson smashed a double to deep right-center field that caromed off the top of the wall and allowed Soto to scoot from first base to third. On a 1-2 pitch from Andrew Miller, second baseman Tyler Saladino smoked a line drive toward left field.
However, Diaz lunged to his left and snared the line drive for the second out of the inning. Confident in his abilities to get one more out, Miller struck out shortstop Tim Anderson.
“That was a great play, but I’ll tell you what,” Francona said. “Sarby (Coach Mike Sarbaugh) deserves an assist because about two pitches before that, he turned to me and said, ‘Are you okay if I back him up a couple, three steps?’
“If he doesn’t back him up, he doesn’t have a chance to make that great play. It was a great play. I just think Sarby deserves a huge assist for saying that and coming up with it.”
Indians left fielder Michael Brantley felt it was Diaz’s play at the hot corner that preserved the tie and helped send the game into extra innings, where Brantley delivered a game-winning RBI double with two outs in the 10th.
“It was huge,” Brantley said. “It was a game-winning hit at the time. If that ball gets past him, I don’t think I’m going to have a chance to throw out the pinch runner. He’s too fast, the ball wasn’t hit hard enough, so two runs would’ve scored there. It was a game-saving play. It was awesome.”