Schilling leaner, hungrier this year - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Schilling leaner, hungrier this year

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Posted: Friday, February 14, 2003 2:24 am | Updated: 1:33 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Randy Johnson was 35 years old when he won the first of his four straight National League Cy Young Awards.

Curt Schilling turned 35 last November.

That's all the motivation a proud man needs.

“I'm looking at this as a four-year window Randy just got done with,” Schilling said Thursday as the Diamondbacks opened spring training. “He went on a four-year run that would compare with anybody's, ever. At the age he went through it is where I'm getting ready to go.”

So here Schilling is, his face slimmer, his stomach noticeably smaller. He says he's lost 10 to 15 pounds. It looks more like 20.

As he embarks on perhaps the final stage of his career, he is in the best physical condition of his career.

Sound familiar?

“I've never made it a mystery that what R.J. has done since I've been here and before I've been here has been something I've always paid attention to,” Schilling said. “It's had a profound impact in some ways in what I do and how I approach what I do.”

Yet, until this offseason, Schilling never had followed Johnson's lead and gotten himself into peak shape. Schilling spent countless hours studying videotape of hitters and his own past performances, but he walked around with a gut that made Mickey Lolich proud.

It's an affirmation of Schilling's talent and mental preparation that he won 45 games over the last two seasons despite looking like the guy at the neighborhood bar.

So why the gut reaction now?

Schilling said he's just trying to be proactive. He mentioned Johnson, Barry Bonds and Nolan Ryan, three players who maintained their ability late into their 30s, and in Ryan's case, his early 40s.

“The one thing they all have is tremendous physical conditioning,” Schilling said. “I've gotten by in being in less-than-great physical condition in the past and I didn't want to push it.”

It's interesting, though, that Schilling's resolve comes after a September in which he lost his final three starts, allowing 18 earned runs in 23 innings (6.95 ERA), and the Cy Young Award to Johnson, who was 5-0 in September with a 0.66 ERA.

Schilling said his late-season fade had nothing to do with his desire to get in better shape, that he went to Johnson midway through the 2002 season to pick his brain about “some of the stuff he does at an advanced age.”

“I finished the year feeling as strong as I've ever felt at the end of the season,” he said. “I just had a run of games I pitched poorly in. That happens.”

Whatever prompted Schilling has changed him. He worked with a nutritionist in the offseason — “It's just paying attention to when and how I ate,” he said — and worked out four to six times a week with an instructor in the Korean martial arts. “I feel good about what I did,” Schilling said. “I have a lot more energy.”

Schilling said the weight loss will not negatively affect his stamina or velocity, always a concern when a power pitcher goes small. Manager Bob Brenly believes Schilling will be more effective late in the season because he's dropped a few pounds.

“He worked extremely hard this winter, probably as hard as he's ever worked,” Brenly said. “It should make him stronger deeper into the season.”

Schilling won't beat back the years like Johnson has. The Big Unit is a conditioning nut, his chiseled 6-foot-10 body a testament to the religious fervor with which he approaches exercise.

But perhaps Schilling can extend his career a couple of seasons. Avoid another September slump. Win that Cy Young Award.

He's been a brilliant pitcher. But not the Diamondbacks' best.

That, too, is motivation.

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