A year ago, Orioles reliever Jason Berken had reporters at FanFest fussing over his weight loss. He dropped about 30 pounds over the winter, and we figured that a slimmer Berken could handle a heavier workload, whether he remained in the bullpen or earned a starting spot.
Berken didn't look noticeably different yesterday as we chatted about his beloved Green Bay Packers - we agreed that giving quarterback Aaron Rodgers two weeks off was a mistake - but he's put on 10 to 15 pounds. And that's exactly what he wanted to do.
Berken thinks he came into camp too light last spring. His ERA certainly gained weight, rising from 3.03 in 41 appearances to 5.36 in 40 appearances. His 2010 season was interrupted by a torn labrum that prevented him from pitching after Aug. 16. His 2011 season was interrupted by a trip to the minors - he made four starts for Triple-A Norfolk between May 24 and June 9 - and a right forearm strain that forced him on the disabled list Aug. 22.
"I think last year, a lot was made of my weight," he said. "I came in too light. This year, I've been able to put on some good weight. I feel a lot more powerful, a lot stronger. I've tried to find out what's best for me. I found out last year the hard way that I was just too light.
"I just learned that through the course of a year, especially, your body breaks down and if you don't have that little extra weight, it's going to be tough. Maybe that's part of the reason I got hurt. I don't know. I just feel like I wasn't nearly as effective as I should have been last year. It was probably because of that reason. I just feel like now I'm stronger, I'm a little bit heavier, and I feel like it's going to be a lot more beneficial for me this year.
"Last year, I was a little behind because I was rehabbing so much. It was nice to be able to start on time, be able to train normally."
Berken had to lay off the weights last winter, but his off-season routine is back to normal.
"I've done a lot of weight training this year and I've been able to put on some muscle," he said. "When you're rehabbing, you're so cautious about lifting and doing a lot of stuff. I didn't want to reinjure it and do too much. Now I've been full-go and I've been able to attack things like I did in the past and really get after the weights and put on some good muscle.
"Training's been going great, throwing's been going great. I feel 100 percent healthy. I'm just anxious to get started."
Now he'll have to earn a job on a crowded pitching staff.
Berken, 28, isn't viewed as a candidate for the rotation, and competition for bullpen spots will be fierce, especially if the Orioles add more relievers. They're reportedly a finalist for Luis Ayala and have spoken to the agent for free-agent closer Francisco Cordero.
"You have to go out and prove yourself every year," said Berken, who's 10-17 with a 5.34 ERA in parts of three major league seasons. "The last three years have been the same for me. There's been no difference. For me, it's just going out there and competing. Competition is great. Everybody loves to compete. The more guys they bring in, the better. No one's safe. That's how it should be. You want to bring in the best guys possible and give this team the best chance to win."