Diekman battles more than hitters

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Jake Diekman pitches at a full squad practice at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)

The idea started this offseason in his Nebraska home, when Jake Diekman was battling a Crohn's disease flare-up. It made him feel irritable and overheated. He felt sluggish.

He lost 20 pounds in two weeks.

Diekman, who blossomed last season as one of the Phillies' hardest throwing and most dependable relief pitchers, told himself he had to gut it out.

He went to Iron Brush Tattoo in Lincoln, Neb., where he has all of his ink work done. He had the words "GUT IT OUT" etched onto the inner side of his right wrist. He talked to his agent, who put him in touch with a company called Athlete's Brand. They helped Diekman design a "GUT IT OUT" T-shirt, which he wears every day at spring training. The shirt goes on sale next month online.

"Crohn's and colitis is in your gut so it seemed like the perfect wordage," Diekman said.

Diekman has battled Crohn's disease since he was 10 years old. It was much worse then, he said, because he did not know how to treat it. He takes 11 pills each morning, followed by six in the afternoon and four at night.

"Now it's just something I deal with," Diekman said.

He left the Phillies complex Thursday morning to receive an infusion of Entyvio at a nearby clinic. The drug, which the FDA approved just last year, is meant to relieve the symptoms caused by the flare-up that Diekman suffered this offseason. He'll get an Entyvio infusion every two months.

If his Crohn's disease is untreated, Diekman said he would be unable to play. The disease can severely damage the digestive tract.

He posted a picture on social media of himself with the infusion in the same arm as his tattoo. He wore his "GUT IT OUT" shirt. Diekman wrote in the caption that life is a blessing and everyone should have a positive attitude. Commenters told him he was an inspiration.

"I'm not trying to be an inspiration. I just want to get the message out," said Diekman. "It's a terrible disease, but it shouldn't stop you from pursuing what you want to do."

Diekman did not allow the disease to slow him last season as he spent his first full year in the majors. Diekman recorded 100 strikeouts in 71 innings, the second-highest season strikeout total by a reliever in team history. His fastball danced around 97 m.p.h., and hit 100 on the radar gun at times. He will team this season with Ken Giles, another who reached 100 on the gun, in managing the seventh and eighth innings.

"A guy like Diekman, I think he learned a lot in a lot of different ways," said manager Ryne Sandberg. "Not only about being consistent on the mound. I think he was more consistent in establishing the strike zone."

Wearing his "GUT IT OUT" shirt, Diekman grabbed his glove and headed toward an empty practice field on Thursday afternoon. A day that started in a doctor's office ended with a baseball catch in the outfield. One of the keys to the Phillies bullpen was back on the field. He had gutted out another day.

 


Phillies' Mario Hollands serious about fashion

Tugging the stirrups over his high white socks, Mario Hollands pulled his gray baseball pants just past his knee.

The Phillies reliever who wears the highest socks in camp was ready for another morning workout. Hollands, 26, wore stirrups - red with a blue Liberty Bell on the calf - last season for Sunday games. But they were four inches shorter. The team ordered longer pairs this season that almost reach the knee.

Hollands said he will wear them again on Sundays but could sport them more often. He has worn them each day this week.

"They're a little more risky," Hollands said. "It's more of a statement. They're a tough pull. I'm still on the fence."

Hollands made the opening-day roster last season and pitched in 50 games. The lefthander injured his back in September and missed the end of the season. He kept himself busy while injured by finishing his associates degree in merchandise marketing from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. The fashion-conscious player is looking for an internship after this season.

"I just have to find a place, figure out where I want to go and what kind of work I want to do," Hollands said. "Right now I'm open to anything. I'm not going to limit myself to one department or one area."

Hollands said he likes the Phillies uniforms, which have not changed much since being introduced in 1992. He compared them with the New York Yankees. The pinstripes of both jerseys are classic, Hollands said.

"There's a reason they haven't changed," he said.

 


Phillies' Altherr keeps Germany connections

Aaron Altherr is the first German-born player to play for the Phillies since 1931 and the only European-born player in camp this season.

He spent just the first six months of his life in Germany and can understand a little of the language. The righthanded hitting outfielder is not a German citizen, but he has played for the country in international play because his father is German.

"There was one guy who had like a great, great aunt or something just so he could play with us," Altherr said.

Altherr's father was a midfielder for FC Kaiserslautern, a team in the country's second soccer division. His parents met while his mother was stationed at the nearby U.S. Air Force base in Ramstein. Altherr's family moved to America shortly after he was born, and he grew up near Phoenix. He said his dad did not know much about baseball before coming to America.

"He's read a lot about it and he knows a lot about the history," Altherr said. "He's gotten pretty into it."

He played basketball and baseball at Agua Fria High. The school wanted him to play football, but Altherr thought the sport was too risky. Northeastern, San Diego, Southern Methodist, and others offered him basketball scholarships. Altherr turned his attention solely to baseball once major-league scouts started showing up at his high school games. He did not play basketball as a senior.

The Phillies drafted him in 2009 and Altherr signed with the team instead of attending Arizona on a baseball scholarship. He finished last season at double-A Reading, hitting .236 in 449 at-bats. Altherr slugged 14 homers and drove in 57 runs. He struck out 30 fewer times than the previous season. He spent the winter playing in Venezuela.

"It's all about experience and learning your swing," said Altherr. "Not trying to do too much and let the numbers come as they do. Not trying to force anything. It's starting to get there."

 


mbreen@phillynews.com

@matt_breen