VIERA, Fla. -- It's the final run of the day for pitchers -- four laps around a practice field, which equals a mile under an intense Florida sun.
Chad Cordero is struggling. The Washington Nationals closer is running last, way behind the pack, sweat pouring down his face. Cordero is laboring hard, to the point where it doesn't look like he will finish before collapsing.
Fans outside the chain-link fence shout encouraging words to "Chief" but at the same time make light-hearted comments about how his teammates are going to lap him.
But there's a good reason why Cordero is straining during what seems to be a simple job.
Since the age of 5, Cordero has suffered from asthma and has had to use an inhaler whenever he has difficulty breathing.
For the past two months, Cordero hasn't used his inhaler because the Albuterol he takes is considered a banned substance by the World Baseball Classic -- an inaugural 16-team tournament that begins next week. The tournament is subject to stricter anti-doping rules than Major League Baseball, and if Albuterol were found in Cordero's system, he could be kicked off the U.S. team.
"It's been tough. There's been times when I had to take it, but I haven't able to," said Cordero, who reports to U.S. team camp in Scottsdale, Ariz., next Thursday. "So that's why I've decided to take it easy. That's why when I'm running, I always finish last. I have to walk a little because I have to pace myself so much because I can't take it."
The thought of pulling himself from the national team never crossed Cordero's mind. He was going to represent his country at the expense of his own health.
"This is a huge deal to be able to play for your country," Cordero said. "That's why I've sacrificed taking the medicine that I need because being able to play for the USA is something you may never have a chance to do again."
Cordero's case illustrates why most major league managers and general managers are against the WBC. Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire, in fact, contacted USA Baseball pitching coach Rene Lachemann and asked how the team planned to use Cordero.
"Basically, I talked with Rene on how we used him, how they planned on using him, and it's basically the same; he's going to have one inning," St. Claire said. "I'm going to give him an inning in the first exhibition game [March 1 against KIA Tigers] because he's scheduled to go an inning [for USA] on March 5. I don't want him to go right into a competition without first pitching in a game here."
Cordero is coming off a magical season in which he led baseball and set a franchise record with 47 saves. Just asking Cordero to duplicate what he did last year might be too much.
"I'm not going to sit here and say we expect him to save 47 games this year because saves are kind of an odd situation. You have to have the opportunities to do it, and things have to go right for you behind you defensively and offensively," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "We expect him to go out there and do a good job for us with the opportunities that he will have."
In his first season as the club's closer, Cordero also broke Mel Rojas' franchise mark with his 24th consecutive save June 29 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. When Cordero appeared out of the Nationals bullpen last season, Washington went 59-15.
Cordero, who saved 31 games before the All-Star break, went 2-4 with a 1.82 ERA and blew just seven saves. At 23, Cordero is one of the brightest young stars on the Nationals' roster. The Montreal Expos originally drafted him out of Cal State Fullerton with the 20th overall pick in 2003.
Cordero's immense talent carried him straight to the big leagues the same year he was drafted out of college after making just 19 appearances at Class A Brevard County.
Despite a breakout season, Cordero said his life hasn't changed much. He hangs with the same people. Everybody treats him the same as before his 47-save season. The only thing that might have changed a little was that he traveled more this offseason. He went to Las Vegas a couple of times, visited Hawaii and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and made one trip back to the District from his Southern California home.
Given how valuable Cordero is to the Nationals, his teammates understand what he's going through regarding his health.
"In his case, he can't really take anything for it," reliever Gary Majewski said. "There's no need for him getting injured or having a panic attack."
Cordero said it is tough to predict when another asthma attack may come.
"When I run, I need to take it, but during the days, if it's really smoggy or there's a lot of stuff in the air, then I might have to take it once," Cordero said of his usual routine. "I'm still going to do as much as I can. I'm going to do everything I can, but if there is a day that I can't go, [the Nationals] all know, and they totally understand."
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