Diaz makes case to be everyday player

Diaz makes case to be everyday player

NEW YORK -- The Braves already knew how much damage Matt Diaz could do against left-handed pitching -- his .378 split was there to behold. But against right-handers? And all the power?

"Nobody ever says anything about him," manager Bobby Cox said of his quiet thumper.

Once prompted, though, Cox could say plenty. He has seen Diaz hit .438 with three home runs and eight RBIs over his past five games, crushing left-handed starters so routinely that Cox cannot rationally sit him against anyone. In 51 August at-bats, Diaz is hitting .333 with five homers, inching his season average ever closer to .300.

Batting against right-handers, traditionally his weakness, Diaz now has five home runs -- as many as he hit over the previous three seasons combined.

Thursday, against Mets ace lefty Johan Santana, Diaz batted sixth in front of Adam LaRoche -- perhaps the only Braves hitter hotter than he is. And that was no mistake.

Diaz entered the game 11-for-20 in his career off Santana, with a home run and a double.

"It's incredible," catcher Brian McCann said. "He's able to carry a team for a couple weeks, the way he swings the bat. As hot as he gets, it's fun to be a part of."

Diaz is on pace for roughly 330 at-bats, just short of his career high, set in 2007 -- a season in which he also hit .338 with 12 homers. But a left knee injury robbed him of a chance to further those numbers in 2008 and to prove that he could be an everyday Major League player.

Diaz then lost 30 pounds this offseason as he rehabbed from his injury in an attempt to wriggle his way back into Cox's plans. It worked.

After several months of sporadic play earlier this season, he is cruising toward that goal, garnering more and more playing time as his results continue to improve. As long as center fielder Nate McLouth remains on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring, Diaz should continue to earn regular starts in right.

And then there's that success against lefties. Diaz is still slugging .577 against them and reaching base at a .431 clip -- numbers not completely out of line with his career rates. Even after McLouth returns and Diaz must share time with Ryan Church in right and Garret Anderson in left, he should continue to regularly crack Cox's lineup.

He is hitting too well and too often to sit.

"It's been good that it's happening in big situations," Diaz said.

In games in which Diaz has driven in at least two runs this season, the Braves are 8-3 -- and three of those wins have come in the past two weeks. Big situations indeed, for an awfully big swing.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.