VIERA, Fla. — Spring training is about hope, and very few players report to camp saying they are in anything less than “the best shape of his life.” For Heath Bell, a former three-time all-star hoping to rebound after three rough seasons, it may actually be true.
After throwing batting practice to his two sons in the batting cages here on Wednesday morning, Bell stopped to chat with reporters. He is still big; he’s 6-foot-3 with broad shoulders. But his body looked significantly slimmer than it has been in the past. He said he has dropped as much as 40 pounds this offseason. Before a recent trip to Disney World with his kids, he was down to 228 pounds.
“Makes my wife feel good,” Bell said, smiling. “Starting to get some abs.”
Bell, 37, signed a minor league deal with a big league camp invite with the Nationals in December after they showed strong interest early in the offseason. There may be little wiggle room for Bell in the bullpen but he will have a chance to compete for a spot in spring training. He is hoping for a rebound after posting a 4.91 ERA over the past three seasons with the Marlins, Diamondbacks and Rays. And one way to do so, Bell thought, was to show up to Florida in great shape.
“I wanted to come into camp and people say, ‘He works his butt off,'” Bell said. “I still need to get people out. It’s just gonna make me look nicer. Everybody has always said, ‘Oh, the weight is an issue if he’s not pitching well.’ I’ve always been one of the hardest workers on the team. Even when I was at my highest, I was the skinniest one in my family. My family, we shoulda been football players. I shoulda been a catcher, not a pitcher.”
The last time he’s dropped this much weight, Bell said, was in his second season with the Mets in 2005 — but he did it incorrectly then. He starved himself, did a lot of cardio and even rollerbladed to the stadium. (Pitching coach “Rick Peterson wasn’t happy with me rollerblading to the stadium.”) Bell said he did it better this time. He trained for two triathlons, ate healthier but didn’t deprive his body of nutrients. And spending time with his family during the second half of last season instead of pitching helped.
“Years ago, when I dropped the weight with the Mets, I couldn’t throw hard,” Bell said. “Then I put weight back on and started throwing hard again. I hope I don’t do it again this year. It’s one of those things where it’s spring and you’re not throwing your hardest.”
Bell’s body and arm may feel good now, but he still has to win a spot on the team and he may be on the outside looking in. Drew Storen, Casey Janssen, Craig Stammen, Jerry Blevins, Matt Thornton, Aaron Barrett and Tanner Roark all appear to have roles. But injuries happen, and Bell said he hasn’t thought much about anything but his own performance. His biggest competition, he said, is himself and the batters he faces.
“Honestly, I haven’t even looked at my chances,” he said. “I feel like my chances are how I perform on the mound and getting batters out.”