CINCINNATI — Left-handed relief pitcher Phillip Diehl grew up in Cincinnati’s Pleasant Ridge neighborhood, about 15 minutes from Great American Ball Park, and played baseball for Moeller High School, the alma mater of Hall of Famers Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr., and manager David Bell.
Diehl already had his Major League debut in 2019 with the Rockies and pitched part of two seasons in Colorado. On Wednesday, following a callup from Triple-A Louisville, the dream debut finally happened with his hometown Reds. Diehl pitched two scoreless innings with two strikeouts during an 8-5 loss to the Padres.
“It was a dream come true,” Diehl said. “I wish we could have come out with the ‘W’, but I’ll be ready tomorrow and let’s get it again.”
The Reds were trailing, 6-1, when Diehl emerged from the bullpen for the top of the sixth inning. His first batter, Luis Campusano, opened by flying out to right field.
The crowd of 9,192 fans featured several members of Diehl’s family — including his mother, Susan, and fiancee, Ava — along with friends. Their cheers could be heard when Diehl struck out C.J. Abrams on a slider that foul tipped into catcher Aramis Garcia’s glove.
When the third batter, Trent Grisham, whiffed on a 91 mph elevated fastball for strike three to end the inning, screams could be heard and several fans got on their feet to cheer Diehl back to the dugout.
A small smile could be seen creeping across Diehl’s face.
“That means the world to me,” Diehl said of the support. “With everything we’ve been through together as a team, that’s awfully special to see all those friends and family out there cheering me at a Major League Baseball game in your hometown. It’s pretty freaking cool.”
Diehl returned for the top of the seventh inning and notched three straight flyouts from Jake Cronenworth, Manny Machado and Jurickson Profar to complete his Reds debut.
“He was so good that we actually had [Alexis] Diaz up to face Machado so Phillip was going to go out for one hitter, and we got a quick one-pitch out and let him pitch the rest of the inning,” Bell said. “Really good, very efficient, what a great night for Phillip. It sounded like a cheering section throughout the whole ballpark being from here. Getting a chance to pitch here.
“It hasn’t been easy to get to this point, so it all came together for him tonight. He has been pitching really well now for a while so it’s nice to have him here. He’s going to get chances to keep going.”
Diehl, 27, was summoned after the only lefty in Cincinnati’s bullpen, Justin Wilson, went on the 10-day injured list with left elbow soreness. It ended a lengthy wait to break through on the Reds’ big league roster.
The callup came while Louisville was at its team hotel in Columbus and manager Pat Kelly summoned Diehl to the lobby. Of course, he was excited. Unlike many fresh callups, he knew exactly where he needed to go.
“I said, ‘Can I go home? Because I’m going to sleep in my bed tonight.’ Got back to my house around 1:30, 2 a.m. And mom was asleep, and here I am,” Diehl said.
The Reds claimed Diehl off waivers from the Rockies on April 14, 2021. But other than an early stint on the taxi squad, he spent the rest of the year at Louisville and posted a 2.47 ERA in 58 appearances. A solid Spring Training followed last month, when he gave up only one unearned run over 5 1/3 innings as a non-roster invite.
Diehl was still a camp cut, but he did well again for Louisville as he posted a 4.50 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in eight games. Over his eight innings, he allowed five runs (four earned) on five hits and one walk to go with 11 strikeouts.
“When he got sent down out of camp, he wasn’t accepting … obviously, he accepted it, but he feels like he’s a big league pitcher,” Bell said before the game. “The only thing he could do at that point was to go to Triple-A and continue to show that. That’s exactly what he did. Just a couple of weeks into the season and he’s getting his opportunity here in Cincinnati. It was a big day.
“But he’s earned this. He’s been in the Major Leagues before. He had to re-earn this opportunity and he did everything right to make that happen.”