MLB: Hot Yainer Diaz, Astros seek sweep of Angels

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Houston Astros catcher Yainer Diaz makes it clear that his focus is calling a good game for whichever pitcher is on the mound for the club, but his struggles at the plate in the latter half of May were noticeable enough that his playing time could have been cut significantly.

Then June began, and everything changed.

When the Astros and Los Angeles Angels wrap up their three-game series in Anaheim, Calif., on Sunday afternoon, Diaz might be behind the plate, or at DH, or on the bench for a well-deserved day off.

No matter what manager Joe Espada’s lineup card reads, Diaz seems to have found his way out of a slump that had him searching for answers.

Diaz hit just .163 (8-for-49) with no homers and a .401 OPS in the final 14 games of May before he found his stroke in his first appearance in June after a few days off.

Diaz homered in four consecutive games to begin the new month, going 6-for-16 in that stretch. He went 1-for-4 but failed to extend the homer streak in Saturday’s 6-1 Astros win over the Angels.

The Astros won Friday’s opener 7-1, with Diaz going 3-for-5 with three RBIs.

For Diaz — who is batting .258 with seven homers and 33 RBIs this season — it was a matter of getting back to the basics. That meant using the whole field, as two of those four homers went to right field for the right-handed hitter.

“When I started playing baseball, that’s one of the things I was taught — to try to drive the ball to the opposite field,” he said. “It would give me a lot more control to reach a lot more pitches. When I hit the ball hard the opposite way, it gives me confidence that I’m doing things right.”

The first homer in the four-homer stretch came June 3 against the St. Louis Cardinals, ending a streak of 148 at-bats without the ball leaving the park.

“You guys can imagine how that must have felt — it’s been awhile,” Diaz told reporters after that 7-4 win. “I’ve been battling, going through a couple things. That’s (what) happens, the results you get, when you don’t give up.

“It was one of those things where it almost felt like a weight was lifted, to an extent. Baseball is one of those sports that’s a lot about confidence, and when you’re going through the stretch I was going through, some of that confidence goes away. When I hit that home run, it definitely felt good there.”

Right-hander Justin Verlander (3-2, 3.63 ERA) will make his 10th start of the season for Houston on Sunday. He is 16-11 with a 3.23 ERA in 31 career starts against the Angels.

Left-hander Patrick Sandoval (2-8, 5.00) will make his 14th start of the season for the Angels. He has held the opposition to two runs or less in three of his past five starts but is winless in all five, his last victory coming May 7 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He’s been unsuccessful against the Astros in his career, going 0-5 with an 8.13 ERA in nine career games (eight starts).

He was drafted by the Astros in 2015 in the 11th round and traded to the Angels in 2018 for catcher Martin Maldonado.

Sandoval has been working on developing a sweeper, hoping it will complement what is considered his best pitch, the changeup.

“It grades out well,” Sandoval said of the sweeper. “It’s my best pitch immediately based on the profile.”

–Field Level Media

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