Trimmer Cecil shaping up his game this spring

Trimmer Cecil shaping up his game this spring

Trimmer Cecil shaping up his game this spring
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Brett Cecil rededicated himself both on and off the field this offseason and he hopes the changes to his body will result in dramatically different results on the mound.

Toronto's left-hander is coming off a tumultuous season that involved a mysterious loss in velocity, a lengthy stint in the Minor Leagues and an, at times, inability to keep the ball down in the zone.

The disappointing results led to a highly motivated offseason workout routine that saw him lose 40 pounds. Cecil's still adjusting to his new body type, but says he is feeling better with each outing and is optimistic he will be able to turn things around in 2012.

"As far as the body goes, I'm even better than I wanted to be," said Cecil, who allowed one run in four innings during Sunday's 10-2 victory over the Phillies. "As long as everything feels good I'm going to be happy. There's going to come a point, who knows what game, it's not always going to be there and that's where the hard work starts on the mound. Pick and choose your spots you've got to work on, but hopefully it doesn't come for a while and things keep going well."

Last spring, one of the biggest storylines in camp was the drop in velocity on Cecil's fastball. He went from throwing in the low 90s in 2010 to mid-to-high 80s in Spring Training, and struggled to regain the lost speed as the season progressed.

It's once again a topic of conversation this year, but one that Cecil doesn't spend nearly as much time worrying about. He has averaged approximately 87 mph on his fastball through four spring starts, but has surrendered just one earned run in 10 innings.

The success -- even if it's just in the Grapefruit League season -- has stemmed largely from the fact that Cecil has done a better job keeping the ball down in the zone.

"That's the crystal ball," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said when asked what Cecil's velocity could be by the start of the year. "Guys [in spring] are going to pitch in the normal range of their velocity. There were a couple of games last year where Brett was in the low 90s, but if Brett's in the 88-91 mph range that's probably what we expect from him.

"But more importantly is the location of it and how it's traveling through the strikezone. If it's on a downward plane, his changeup in behind it becomes that much more deceptive."

Cecil's renewed commitment to fitness is one of the main reasons why he has been able to maintain that downward plane. He currently weighs approximately 210 pounds, which is his lowest since he was a sophomore in college, and a far cry from the 250 he weighed at the end of last season.

The 25-year-old accomplished the large weight loss thanks to a rigorous routine in the offseason. He worked out five days a week with an intense cardio program that stemmed from a biomechanical study of his body. It was determined that the speed of his shoulder, torso and legs were fine, but the muscles in his core weren't responding the way they should.

The strength was still there, but the endurance necessarily wasn't and it led to problems with his delivery. Cecil had trouble repeating his motion in 2011, and as a result he was forced to tinker with his wind-up and start using an over-the head-motion that made the process somewhat easier.

The revamped mechanics were met with mixed results and he has gone back to his previous style. But having shed all the weight, he finds the improved athleticism is changing the way he has been able to throw off the mound.

"I don't have 40 extra pounds pulling me towards the first-base side so it's easier to stay on line," Cecil said. "I say that kind of as a joke but it's true, I don't have that weight coming across the body and just shoving me over towards first base, so it's easier to maintain. It's made my feet unbelievably quicker, my arm is a lot quicker.

"It's a matter of getting the timing down as far as when everything fires a certain time, all your muscles fire at a certain time, and now the arm just wants to get out in front. So I have to make a few adjustments but I don't think they're going to be very hard."

It was just two years ago that Cecil led the Blue Jays with 15 wins while posting a 4.22 ERA in 172 2/3 innings. Those numbers dipped last season to 4-11 with a 4.73 ERA in 123 2/3 innings.

His biggest problem was keeping the ball in the yard, as he surrendered 22 home runs in 20 starts. Even when things appeared to be going well on the mound, there always seemed to be one or two pitches that would leak into the upper part of the zone and lead to an advantage for the other team.

That's what Cecil has targeted as the biggest area of improvement in 2012. He no longer concerns himself with what the radar gun says, he just wants to make sure that he consistently keeps the ball low and out of danger from opposing hitters.

"I don't care what it is," Cecil said. "I don't think velocity is what makes good pitchers. Obviously velocity helps; it helps you get away with mistakes, but it all comes down to 100-percent location."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.