PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — Big and bloated or slim and sleek, plenty of big league players showed up to spring training this year looking nothing like they did last season.
Ryan Howard trimmed down. CC Sabathia bulked up. Jered Weaver packed on muscle, Jesus Montero shed some flab. They all transformed their bodies with varying intentions, some hoping it leads to bounce-back seasons, others trying to stay healthy over a 162-game grind.
It makes sense that folks are paying so much attention to such a weighty issue.
After all, “The Biggest Loser” has been going strong for 16 seasons on NBC. Late-night TV is littered with infomercials for body wraps, pills and magic shakes. Diet books are regulars on the best seller lists, and things like Spartan Race and CrossFit are driving people to the gym.
“I think I was just trying to find a good weight to play at,” said Sabathia, who showed up at Yankees camp this spring at more than 300 pounds. “Last year I came in too light.”
Sabathia actually began making headlines for his weight two years ago, when he shed about 30 pounds to take the strain off his troublesome knees. But the unintended consequence was that his mechanics were thrown out of whack — his balance was off, his timing out of sync.
So, after consulting with Yankees team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad, he decided to pack the pounds back on. Sabathia hopes a more familiar weight leads to more familiar results.
“I feel like this is a good weight. I feel a little stronger,” he said. “I feel my legs under me, being a lot stronger, and being able to push off the mound.”
Sabathia is a rare case, though. Most players spend all offseason trying to get trim, changing their diets and spending countless hours toiling away in the gym.
Take Howard cut back on sweets while ramping up his workouts last November. The Phillies slugger showed up to camp 20 pounds lighter. He hopes the changes make him look less like the .233 hitter of last season and more like the three-time All-Star of old.
“Just eating a little bit cleaner,” he explained. “You have a cheat day or whatever once in a while, but for the most part, just trying to stick with it.”
One of the most startling transformations was Jesus Montero, who was suspended last season for fighting with a scout over an ice cream sandwich.
Once a top prospect, Montero’s weight ballooned to the point that he was no longer considered the Mariners’ catcher of the future. Some wondered whether he had any future at all. But he dedicated himself to getting in better shape this offseason and arrived in Arizona about 30 pounds lighter, looking quicker on his feet and better on the base paths.
But it wasn’t just performance that caused Montero to change his habits. It was also for his daughter, Loren, who provided inspiration during all those grueling workouts.
“I want her to look at me as an example, not like somebody like a quitter,” he said. “That’s what I was thinking the whole time. I want to give her something when she grows up.”
Weaver, the Angels’ ace, has bulked up to more than 220 pounds in the hopes of going deeper in games. Royals pitcher Danny Duffy added a few pounds to improve his durability, too.
Then there’s Cubs infielder Javy Baez and Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, both of whom took rather unconventional — and largely unintentional — routes to losing weight.
Baez lost a few pounds playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, where it was always hot and humid. But he also underwent minor surgery on his teeth that kept him from eating normally.
Asked what Kipnis did to lose weight, he replied: “Food poisoning. I threw up a lot more.”
Of course, Kipnis also changed his offseason workout regimen to focus more on stretching, cardio and agility and less on bulking up for power. Now, after hitting .240 with a career-low six home runs a season ago, Kipnis hopes he’ll be back in the All-Star game this year.
“I don’t look like a guy who should be trying to put out 30 a year. That’s not my game,” he said. “It just came down to finding out what we needed to do, find out works for me.”
AP Sports Writers Jay Cohen, Tom Withers, Ron Blum and AP freelancers Mark Didtler and Jose Romero contributed to this report.