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Trying to Tip the Scales

Angel right-hander Bartolo Colon is working with a personal trainer to control his weight and he's having All-Star results on the mound

July 12, 2005|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

The two-car garage has no room for a car. The bicycles are stacked against one wall. A refrigerator -- with an Angels' magnet schedule on the door -- stands against another wall.

Three young boys wander in and out while their father shoots a basketball in the driveway, the oldest boy dodging the toddler play set, then clicking the television on and sinking into one of the folding chairs to play a video game.

But as soon as the blue sports car turns into the cul-de-sac and screeches into the driveway of this Villa Park home, Bartolo Colon excuses himself from playtime with his sons. It is time to work, even on this sunny suburban Saturday morning.

The laughter erupts from the car even before the driver emerges. He is Angel Presinal, a man of average height, abundant muscle and a perpetual smile.

"They call me Nao," he says.

In the Dominican Republic, they know Pedro Martinez by one name: the pitcher. They know Nao by one name too: the trainer.

He reels off a client list that reads like a Latin All-Star team -- Martinez, David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, Jose Guillen, Juan Gonzalez, Ruben Sierra, Francisco Cordero. If a Dominican national team in any sport wants him, he says, he's there to help.

But those clients are all part-time -- a session, a week, a winter. Colon is Nao's boss.

It is thanks to Nao, Colon says, that he will represent the Angels in tonight's All-Star game in Detroit. He has appeared in the All-Star game once -- seven years ago, in his first full season in the major leagues.

He has not lost the lightning fastball, or the stout body. He has lost the hard head, and the soft middle.

"As a young player, everything is ability," Colon says, through a translator. "You never think you need to work extra hard. Things come a little easier.

"When you're young, you think you know it all. I was a little stubborn. I learned I needed to work harder."

So Colon hired Nao two years ago, worked with him in the Dominican during the winter and moved him here during the season. Nao, 52, works him out four out of every five days -- at Colon's house when the Angels are at home, in a hotel gym when the Angels are on the road. Colon pays Nao's salary, as well as for his apartment in Orange County, for his hotel rooms and air fares.

Colon doesn't mind if Nao works with other players during the summer, if they're in town.

"No one is more important than Bartolo," Nao says, through a translator. "He has my time now."

*

After 48 major league starts by Colon -- and that one All-Star appearance -- the Cleveland Indians signed him to a four-year, $9-million contract in 1999. The Indians included a clause that mandated four weigh-ins a year, with a $12,500 bonus each time he came in at or below 225 pounds.

When the Angels signed him to a four-year, $51-million contract in December 2003, they did not include a weight clause. He pitched at 255 pounds last season, at 31, and by July the deal appeared to be a big fat mistake.

He started 34 games last season. After the 17th, a four-inning outing against the Dodgers in which he gave up three home runs and struck out none, he was 5-8 with a 6.57 earned-run average.

"I was pretty much desperate," Colon said. "I felt like I was letting so many people down."

On a national radio broadcast, ESPN analyst and former major leaguer Dave Campbell said, "It doesn't seem politically correct to tell somebody they're fat, but Bartolo Colon is fat."

Never had the Angels guaranteed a pitcher so much money. But even as Colon accumulated defeats, General Manager Bill Stoneman said he was not worried about wasting $51 million of owner Arte Moreno's money.

"Not really," Stoneman said. "His problem was pretty much command of his pitches. He had a history of good command, and that usually doesn't disappear that quickly."

In 35 starts since then -- the equivalent of a full season -- Colon is 24-9 with a 3.53 ERA. He is 11-5 with a 3.42 ERA this season, with 3.4 strikeouts for every walk.

He leads the majors with 64 victories over the last four years. He's on pace to pitch 200 innings for the fifth consecutive season, and he never has been on the disabled list because of an arm injury. He made no plans for the All-Star break this season, he says, so he could push himself to earn a spot in the game.

The Angels believe the turnaround can be explained simply. The ankle and back soreness that hampered him last spring are long gone.

"The ankle and the back weren't enough, in his opinion or in the opinion of the medical people, to have him miss starts," pitching coach Bud Black said. "It affected the quality of his pitches. He was quite a lot less than 100%, but him being 80% is better than anyone else we could have put out there.

"Once he got completely healthy, you saw what happened. Everything came together. His velocity picked up. His command picked up. The crispness of his secondary pitches got better. His confidence increased dramatically."

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