"No, that's too low," Milacki told him. "See if you can just be parallel with the ground."
The Phillies want to believe a dependable - maybe even a dominant - reliever was created that moment. Diekman is 26 and throwing better than ever. Opposing hitters complain about the way his unusual delivery hides the baseball, and when they see it, it is traveling at a powerful speed.
"Commitment, freedom, and trust," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "If you're tense, the ball doesn't come out of your hand the same way."
Diekman's fastball has traveled at an average velocity of 95.4 m.p.h during his two major-league seasons. That ranks third-fastest behind all Phillies pitchers since 2002, according to FanGraphs.com, trailing Billy Wagner (96.7 m.p.h.) and Felix Rodriguez (95.6 m.p.h.).
Dubee is infatuated with Diekman - he said two springs ago he would quit his job to serve as the pitcher's agent - and encouraged by the recent results. Diekman pitched Saturday against Atlanta and struck out Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis with eight pitches. He threw Gattis, a man who crushes baseballs with great frequency, a first-pitch fastball on the black. Gattis swatted it to the screen for strike one. The ball left Diekman's hand at 99.85 m.p.h., according to PITCHf/x data.
Diekman has gained velocity on his fastball every month. His average velocity this season is 96.7 m.p.h. It was 95.7 m.p.h. in 2012. He is throwing it even harder since Aug. 11; a 0.77 ERA in his last 12 games has coincided with a 97.3-m.p.h. average fastball.
He throws his slider with a harder bite. The average velocity on that pitch has increased by more than 2 m.p.h. from 2012 to 2013. He said he reached a better understanding of the kinetics involved with throwing from the side.
"I feel like I can smooth out my mechanics some more and fine-tune everything," Diekman said. "I know pitch to pitch what I need to do and what I didn't do right on that last pitch."
Diekman did not look quite as confident when the games carried more meaning earlier in the season. Overall, there is marked improvement from 2012. He has cut his walk rate nearly in half. Lefthanded hitters are 9 for 54 (.167) with nine singles and 21 strikeouts.
"It's a product of being here the second or third time around," Dubee said. "It's a product of us not being in a pennant race. These kids came up last year thinking, 'We have to win six in a row. These guys have won the last five years.' That's a lot of heat. This is just relax and play."
Is it smart to evaluate them in this atmosphere?
"You have to judge them on this," Dubee said. "You have to be somewhat happy about the way they are breaking through some of the barriers."
Keeping Fast Company
Hardest Phillies throwers since 2002
1. Billy Wagner (2004-05) 96.7
2. Felix Rodriguez (2004) 95.6
3. Jake Diekman (2012-13) 95.4
4. B.J. Rosenberg (2012-13) 94.8
5. Francisco Rosario (2007) 94.7
6. Phillippe Aumont (2012-13) 94.7
Diekman's fastball velocity by month
Month Fastball (m.p.h.)
May 2012 94.9
June 2013 96.0
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