Seated on a small stool inside the Marlins’ clubhouse, Jumbo Diaz — the heaviest pitcher in Major League history — fills the entire width of his locker space, barely leaving enough room for the two teammates who flank him on either side.
The Marlins’ roster has Diaz listed at 315 pounds, and photos of the pitcher found online bear out his colossal size, with a belly drooping over his waistline.
But on what was the first day of spring training, when pitchers and catchers stepped on the scales for their physicals, Diaz was relieved to see the readout come to a halt at 300.
“I feel good,” he said with a smile. “Last year, after the season was over, I was at 342. But I went home to the Dominican, started exercising and eating good and I dropped 40 pounds.”
With 173 big-league relief appearances under his 44-inch belt in four seasons with the Reds and Rays, Diaz — a non-roster invite — has a legitimate chance to land on a spot in the Marlins’ bullpen.
“When I saw him pitch for Cincinnati, this guy was dirty,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “His ball just dives out of the strike zone. So he’s a guy who will get some looks in camp, and a guy I’ve always liked from the standpoint of his stuff.”
Should Diaz win a spot on the roster, he would become the heaviest player in Marlins history — no fewer than 10 pounds larger than former reliever Jon Rauch.
Already, Diaz is the heaviest pitcher in Major League history and, according to Baseballreference.com, ranks second all-time to Walter Young, a 320-pound first baseman who played in 14 games for the 2005 Baltimore Orioles.
Diaz isn’t the first heavyweight to pitch off a big-league mound.
The sport has had its share of super-sized hurlers. There was Rick “The Whale” Reuschel, a 215-pounder for the Cubs in the 1970s. There was Terry Forster, a beefy 200-pound hurler whom late-night comic David Letterman once dubbed as a “Fat Tub of Goo.” Bartolo Colon, affectionally known as “Big Sexy,” weighs in at 285 lbs. while Jonathan Broxton (“Baby Huey”) is also listed at 285.
But Diaz takes the cake.
Not only isn’t Diaz ashamed of his size, but proudly mentions it with his Twitter handle: @ElJumboDiaz.
Diaz got his nickname in 2002 when he was one of two players on the Dodgers’ rookie-league roster named Jose Diaz. A pitching coach, in order to avoid confusion, began calling him “Jumbo.’
The nickname stuck, though it has created a few problems.
Whenever a check arrives in the mail made out to Jumbo Diaz, he has to send it back, asking the sender to change it to Jose Diaz. His bank does not allow him to deposit checks made out to Jumbo.
But he’s Jumbo to everyone else.
“I don’t have a problem when people call me Jumbo,” he said. “I have fun with that.”
Because of his size, Diaz has become something of a fan favorite. Marlins bullpen coach Dean Treanor said he has coached the pitcher in winter ball, as well as in the Pirates’ farm system.
“They just loved him,” Treanor said of fans. “When he would leave a game in Bradenton, he’d walk down the right-field line and everybody’s wanting to touch him and stuff.”
Treanor said Diaz is nimbler than some might think.
“Down in the Dominican, they used to challenge him by bunting,” Treanor said. “But he gets off that mound.”
Treanor said Diaz’s personality matches his size.
“He’s one of the most quality persons you’ll ever find,” Treanor said. “Everywhere he goes in the clubhouse, the players love him. He’s a big bear, but one of the biggest personalities you’ll find.”
▪ Mattingly said Thursday that Jarlin Garcia, who made a strong rookie impression last season while working out of the Marlins’ bullpen, will be groomed as a starter.
“Jarlin will be a starter this year and will be working toward that,” Mattingly said. “We think that’s best for his development.”
Garcia had been a starter throughout most of his minor-league career. But he worked 68 games out of the bullpen for the Marlins last season, going 1-2 with a 4.73 ERA.