GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The other day, Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey found himself having a familiar issue for many. The righty tried the usually simple task of putting on a pair of pants ... and he couldn't get them buttoned until he sucked in a little around the waist. "Those are going to be a little tight," Bailey said to a reporter with a chuckle. Spring Training stories often feature players that went through offseason regimens in order to achieve weight loss. One example sat just across the Reds' clubhouse from Bailey -- outfielder Jay Bruce, who dropped 15 pounds.
Often one to zag when others zig, Bailey actually put on 15 pounds over the winter -- he's now pushing 225. It wasn't from being parked on the couch trying to play "Man vs. Food: The Home Game." This was 100 percent intentional. Despite the waistline of his pants being snug, most of the weight gain is noticeable on his upper body, especially around the chest and shoulders.
"I wanted to be a little bit stronger and I wanted to see if it would make getting through a whole season a little easier," Bailey said. "It's something I did on my own. I met a nutritionist and got to eat a lot."Managing to survive a whole season unscathed has been anything but easy for Bailey the past two years. In both 2010 and '11, he spent time on the disabled list with shoulder injuries. Last season, there were two DL trips that included one to begin the season when he came down with a right shoulder impingement during camp. That injury cost him a month. Another month from May 28-June 25 was wiped out by a shoulder sprain suffered during an at-bat in Philadelphia. In 22 starts -- a career high -- Bailey was 9-7 with a 4.43 ERA, 33 walks and 106 strikeouts in 132 innings. "I think he was turning the corner in 2009, and the ability to get on a roll in 2010 and '11 was interrupted by these shoulder setbacks," Reds pitching coach Bryan Price said. "He's a confident kid. He knows if he's healthy that he's ready to pitch at this level and pitch well." "For the most part, I thought I threw pretty well last year," Bailey said. "You take away a bunch of games where I was pitching 50 percent and still threw OK. The games where I was actually feeling good, I had some pretty good games there." Indeed there were, such as the one-run, three-hit, 7 1/3-inning performance in a July 17 win over the Cardinals. In Colorado on Sept. 9, he gave up one run over 7 2/3 innings. Now Bailey just needs more of those performances strung together over an entire (healthy) season. "Hopefully this will be his year where he can stick it out," fellow starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo said. "Obviously, he has good enough stuff to win 12 games in his sleep as long as he's healthy." To that end, Price felt that Bailey's initiative in packing on some weight was a strong idea. It also has brought a change in the right-hander's throwing program heading into spring. "I anticipated if he worked harder in the weight room, there would be some benefits to weight gain that coincides with that," Price said. "His workouts and his throwing were almost running side by side and we wanted him to spend more time strengthening and start a little later with his throwing. He hasn't thrown as many bullpens or for as long a duration. We can use Spring Training as an opportunity to build him up as opposed to him almost coming here peaked by the time he arrives and actually taking steps backwards." Up and down in the big leagues for parts of five seasons now, this could be a big year for Bailey if he can improve as a pitcher. Signed to a one-year, $2.4 million contract, which allowed him to avoid arbitration, he is again vying for a rotation spot. His chances are already enhanced with the contract and the fact he's out of Minor League options. But health is the x-factor that will determine whether Bailey lasts. Maturity used to be another, but he has since taken steps to grow up as a pitcher. "I think it's been a slow maturation process," said Arroyo, the longest-tenured Reds player. "He had to realize the game wasn't going to come as easy as people talked about in the newspaper about him. He was supposed to come up here and be Roger Clemens from Day 1. That only happens once in a generation and is not that easy. He's had to learn some things about his body and how to keep it healthy. He hasn't figured it out yet but we hope he has now. He's definitely come along. He's definitely improved and he's opened his eyes and ears a little bit more than he did his first couple of years." More muscle seemingly equates to more strength, which means more power in his pitches. Theoretically, it should also mean better health and longer endurance? "The key word is 'theoretically.' I hope so. I think so," Bailey said.