- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2008

VIERA, Fla. — The old photograph told Chad Cordero part of the story, how he became a first-round draft pick, was in the Montreal Expos bullpen months later and saved a league-high 47 games three years ago.

The new photograph told Cordero what needed to happen, how he needed to change his diet, adopt a stricter exercise routine and drop a few pounds.

“Seeing the way I looked in college and in 2005 and the way I looked last year, it didn’t look right,” he said. “I had to take it up myself to eat better and work harder.”

The labor has paid off. Cordero reported to Washington Nationals spring training last week having shed 10 pounds off his 6-foot frame, but more importantly, in better physical shape following a regiment that included several weeks in suburban Dallas working out with teammate Joel Hanrahan.

Out of Cordero’s menu are “pretty much everything —pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs.” In are sandwiches and salads.

“He was really strict on what he was eating,” Hanrahan said. “I remember Chad from before eating Cheerios and drinking Cokes in the morning. Now all he drinks is water. He’s taking it seriously and it’s important to him.”

Cordero didn’t cite his performance as a reason to improve his conditioning. He saved 37 games for the Nationals last year, but he posted a 3.36 earned run average (compared with 1.82 in 2005) and opponents hit .260 off him (compared with .198 in 2005). But in conversations with pitching coach Randy St. Claire, the 25-year-old realized he had to be more committed in the winter.

“It’s good to see,” St. Claire said. “We’ve talked about it in the past because he’s not the type of guy who, body-wise, is a specimen by any means. He’s not blessed with a body like that so he has to work hard to keep his ability because it goes if you don’t take care of it.”

In November and December, Cordero started working out with a personal trainer in California, running three times a week and strengthening his core muscles without losing flexibility. In January, he traveled to Frisco, Texas, and began working with Jason Maresh at 360 Performance. Among Maresh’s clients are Hanrahan, Torii Hunter and LaTroy Hawkins.

Maresh put Cordero — who suffers from asthma — on a running plan that doesn’t include long jogs, but rather short sprints and shuttle runs.

“For a guy like me, I don’t need to be running a mile or two miles at a time — that’s not me,” Cordero said. “Starters need to do that because they need more stamina. I’m only there for an inning, two innings at the most.”

Hanrahan has worked with Maresh for several years and recommended him to Cordero.

“I was coming off a bad year when I started there,” Hanrahan said. “I came to spring training and I could tell my core and my legs were stronger, but I wasn’t balky. And I threw the ball harder and could tell the difference in my stamina and velocity.”

Hanrahan said Maresh stresses weight training but things like bench-pressing dumb-bells and using a medicine ball.

On the mound, Cordero — the highest paid player on the Nationals ($6.2 million) — wants to translate the conditioning into better results. He allowed a career-high 75 hits and his 29 walks were the most since his rookie year.

Even so, manager Manny Acta has spent little time this spring worrying about his closer, who established himself as one of Washington’s most-reliable players.

“He’s a guy that when he’s throwing on the side, I don’t even waste my time going to look at him,” Acta said. “Because I know what I’m going to get.”

Cordero is working on a few things this spring. He’s fine-tuning his changeup and slider in an attempt to finish off innings quicker.

“I got into a lot of trouble once I got two outs,” he said. “I’d get the first two guys quick and then walk a couple of hitters or give up a couple of hits.”

Off the field, Cordero is prepared to withstand the edible temptations of a major league clubhouse.

“I’m going to my best to stick with it because in the clubhouse, you tend to have all that kind of food,” he said. “It’ll be hard, but I should be able to do it.”


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