Jake Diekman looks to chew up hitters in 2014


Jake Diekman looks to chew up hitters in 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Phillies reliever Jake Diekman used a performance-enhancing substance in 2013.

Relax. It was completely legal.

“This is the stuff,” Diekman said.

He pointed to a box of Dubble Bubble chewing gum that was sitting on a table in the Phillies’ spring-training clubhouse.

“I can’t chew anything else,” he said. “I grab about 20 pieces and stuff them in my pocket before going to the bullpen.”

In the dark season of 2013, Diekman was a bright spot. The hard-throwing lefty sidearmer developed the four Cs of relief pitching -- composure, control, confidence and cojones -- and is on everyone’s list of potential difference makers as the Phillies look to end a two-year playoff drought and get back to the postseason in 2014.

It seems as if every successful big-leaguer can point to a time in his career when everything began to click. For Diekman, the click happened Aug. 19 when he channeled the anger caused by a blown umpiring call into a 99-mph fastball and a game-saving strikeout.

Diekman, 27, believes he was able to harness his emotion that night because the game stopped moving in fast-forward for him last season.

He credits his performance-enhancing substance for that.

Last spring training, Diekman began chewing bubble gum when he pitched. He got away from it for a while then started doing it again during side work at Lehigh Valley.

Over time, he realized something. His focus and concentration improved when he chewed gum. Everything seemed to slow down and become more manageable. He was still in the high-speed lane of major-league baseball, but no longer did it feel as if everything was whizzing past him.

“For some reason, it makes me think less,” Diekman said. “I think I’m conscious of not chomping on the gum so I don’t look like a horse on TV. It slows everything down for me. At least it feels like it does.”

Though not scientifically proven, there are theories that suggest chewing gum can increase oxygen to the brain and therefore improve alertness and concentration.

Diekman is a believer.

“I don’t get super sped-up anymore,” he said. “Now it feels weird if I don’t pitch with gum. I threw my first bullpen here this spring without it and I was lost.”

While Phillies officials will gladly provide Diekman with all the bubble gum he needs if it means he pitches well, the biggest reason the game slowed down for him last season can be boiled down to one word.


Diekman pitched in 32 games in 2012, his rookie season, and 29 more last season before he heard the click on Aug. 19. He had just come into a one-run game in the eighth inning against Colorado at Citizens Bank Park. There were two outs and runners on first and second when umpire Jim Joyce called Diekman for a balk. The next day, Joyce told Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg that he was wrong to have called the balk. But that didn’t help Diekman at the time. The balk call put runners at second and third with the game on the line.

Seething inside, Diekman turned his fury into a weapon. He blew a 99-mph fastball by Nolan Arenado to end the Rockies’ threat and help propel the Phillies to a win.

“I got (ticked) off,” Diekman said. “A base hit would have lost us the lead. I just said to myself, ‘Go right at him. Attack the hitter.’

“When you first get called up to the big leagues, you have to know you’re here for a reason. You have to believe that you can pitch here. That was the turning point for me. After the balk, I felt like, ‘I can pitch up here.’ I felt like I pitched with fire after that.”

Fire and bubble gum.

After the balk game, Diekman made 15 more appearances out of the bullpen for the Phillies last season. In 14 innings, he allowed just six hits and one run. He struck out 17 and walked four.

That finish is a big reason Phillies officials believe Diekman can be a force this season.

Of course, Diekman would not even be here if it weren’t for a stab-in-the-dark delivery change suggested by minor-league pitching coach Bob Milacki in the summer of 2009. At the time, Diekman was in low Single A ball. He threw straight over the top and was pretty much headed nowhere. During a bullpen session, Milacki suggested Diekman try throwing sidearm. The pitcher was put on the disabled list so he could practice the new delivery.

“I got put on the phantom DL to work on it,” he said. “It was the worst experience of my life. Shin contusion. I had to fake being hurt for two weeks and it sucked.”

Turns out the worst experience of Diekman’s life changed his life. For the better. The new arm angle added deception to his delivery and velocity to his fastball. He went from the low 90s on the radar gun to the high 90s. His career took off.

“I’d be home somewhere if I didn’t make the change,” he said.

Along with his blazing fastball, Diekman has a power slider and he’s working hard on his changeup this spring. It’s not difficult to envision Diekman closing games somewhere down the road. He certainly has the stuff. But for now, he will be asked to get important outs in the seventh and eighth innings.

“It doesn’t matter what they ask me to do,” Diekman said. “I just want to pitch.”

And when he does, you can be sure he’ll be chewing bubble gum.

World Series: Kluber, Perez help Indians shut out Cubs in Game 1

World Series: Kluber, Perez help Indians shut out Cubs in Game 1


CLEVELAND -- Corey Kluber got the Cleveland Indians off to a striking start and Roberto Perez put away Chicago in the Cubs' first World Series game since 1945.

Kluber dominated into the seventh inning, Perez homered twice and the Indians beat the Cubs 6-0 in the opener Tuesday night. AL Championship Series MVP Andrew Miller escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the seventh and got out of trouble in the eighth, preserving a three-run lead.

"It's almost like you have that extra level of intensity," said Kluber, who became the first Series pitcher to strike out eight batters in the first three innings.

In a matchup between the teams with baseball's longest championship droughts, the Indians scored twice in the first off October ace Jon Lester.

Perez drove in four runs with a fourth-inning solo shot and a three-run drive in the eighth against Hector Rondon, becoming the first Cleveland player and the only No. 9 batter to homer twice in a Series game.

"I've come a long ways," said Perez, who has three home runs in 27 at-bats during the postseason after hitting three in 153 during the regular season.

Francisco Lindor added three hits as the Indians improved to 8-1 this postseason. Cleveland manager Terry Francona is 9-0 in the Series, including sweeps by his Boston teams in 2004 and `07.

The Game 1 winner has taken the title in the last six Series and 17 of 19.

"I have no concerns," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It's the first game. I'm fine, we're fine."

Trevor Bauer, trying to come back from a sliced pinkie caused by a freak drone accident, starts Game 2 for the Indians on Wednesday night against Jake Arrieta. Because the forecast called for an increased chance of rain later in the evening, Major League Baseball took the extraordinary step of moving up the first pitch by an hour to 7:08 p.m.

Kluber painted the outside corner, and 24 of his 59 strikes were called by plate umpire Larry Vanover. Twelve batters were caught looking, including seven Cubs.

"I think his ball was moving too much today," said Perez, Cleveland's catcher. "We got guys off balance the whole night."

Kluber combined with Miller and Cody Allen to fan 15, and Chicago went 2 for 15 with 10 strikeouts with runners on base.

With the Indians hoping for their first title since 1948 and the Cubs seeking their first since 1908, Lester stumbled in the opening inning.

Cleveland loaded the bases with two outs off Lester, who had been 3-0 with an 0.43 ERA in three Series starts. Jose Ramirez had a run-scoring swinging bunt single and Brandon Guyer was hit by a pitch. Perez connected in the fourth for a 3-0 lead.

Teams that combined for 174 seasons of futility, America's biggest droughts since the Great Plains' Dust Bowl of the 1930s, captivated even many non-baseball fans.

On a night of civic pride, LeBron James and the NBA's Cavaliers received their championship rings next door prior to their season opener, and Cleveland hosted a World Series opener for the first time.

The Cubs had not played in the Series since five weeks after Japan signed the Instrument of Surrender ending World War II.

Kluber, whose win in the All-Star Game gave the AL home-field advantage on the Series, improved to 3-1 in the postseason and lowered his ERA to a sparkling 0.74.

He was pitching on six days' rest, and his two-seam fastball was darting through the strike zone. Kluber struck out nine in six innings and walked none

Kyle Schwarber, making a surprise return in his first big league game since tearing knee ligaments on April 7, doubled off the right-field wall in the fourth -- a drive kept in by a stiff wind on a 50-degree night. Kluber then got Javier Baez to fly out.

Zobrist's leadoff double in the seventh finished Kluber, and Cleveland loaded the bases with no outs against Miller on Schwarber's walk and Baez's single. Pinch-hitter Willson Contreras flied to Rajai Davis in short center, and Davis threw home rather than double up Schwarber, who had strayed far off second.

Using his intimidating slider, Miller struck out Addison Russell and David Ross to escape the jam, then fanned Schwarber to strand runners at the corners in the eighth, his 46th pitch. Miller has thrown 20 scoreless innings in postseason play, including 13 2/3 innings with 24 strikeouts this year.

Allen completed Cleveland's fourth postseason shutout and second in a row.

Ramirez also had three hits each for the Indians, who beat Toronto in the ALCS despite hitting just .168. Zobrist had three hit for the Cubs.

Lester gave up three runs, six hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings, and was rattled by Vanover's calls, barking at the umpire in the third, then stopping for a discussion at the inning's end.

Up next
While Arrieta went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA during the regular season, he struggled to a 5.01 ERA in his final four starts. He allowed four runs over five innings in Game 3 of the NLCS.

Bauer lasted only two outs in his ALCS when his pinkie, cut in a drone accident, began bleeding.

They're back
Dexter Fowler took a called third strike from Kluber leading off the game, becoming the first Cubs player to bat in the Series since Don Johnson hit into a game-ending forceout against Detroit's Hal Newhouser in Game 7 in 1945.

Take a seat
Chicago benched right fielder Jason Heyward, in a 2-for-28 postseason slump, and started Chris Coghlan.

6 months later, Cubs' Kyle Schwarber returns for World Series Game 1

6 months later, Cubs' Kyle Schwarber returns for World Series Game 1

CLEVELAND — Chicago Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber's rehab finished just in time for the World Series.

Schwarber will bat fifth and be the designated hitter for the National League champions in Game 1 on Tuesday night against Cleveland's Corey Kluber. Schwarber hasn't played in the majors since tearing ligaments in his left knee on April 7 in a collision with teammate Dexter Fowler.

Dallas Cowboys orthopedic surgeon Dr. Daniel Cooper operated 12 days later to repair torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments. He was expected to miss the rest of the season but was cleared to return on Oct. 17.

Schwarber played a pair of games in the Arizona Fall League, going 1 for 6 with a double and two walks, and flew to Cleveland on Monday.