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Trying to Tip the Scales

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.

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“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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

Said Colon: “I was the one leaving the ball over the plate. I can’t blame my back. I can’t blame my ankle.”

When a reporter recently asked Manager Mike Scioscia about the last time anyone mentioned Colon’s contract, Scioscia had a ready retort.

“When was the last time anyone mentioned his weight?” Scioscia said.

Funny thing is, his weight is up. The “fat” label sticks easily to a 5-foot-11 man who inherited a wide body and legs resembling tree trunks.

“My family,” Colon says with a shrug. “My daddy.”

This season, he says, he weighs 268 pounds.

“It’s new muscle. It’s all workouts,” he says. He pauses, letting a devilish grin develop. “No liposuction.”

*

The workout can’t be confined to an exercise room. Colon has a small one in his house, with a treadmill, stair climber, elliptical machine, free weights and an all-in-one home gym.

The workout starts, though, after Colon tosses a towel onto the living room sofa. Then he spreads out on the carpet, under an archway that separates the living room from the dining room, stretching his legs, arms, back, chest and trunk.

Colon rises from the carpet and works on the treadmill, with Nao next to him on the elliptical machine. Then Colon follows Nao outside, through the garage and into the backyard, near the swing set.

Nao secures weights to Colon’s wrists and ankles, attached to tubing that provides resistance, then pulls the tubing in various directions to work out wrists, biceps, triceps, forearms and legs.

As Colon does sit-ups, Nao plays catch with him, with an eight-pound medicine ball. More massage follows, then Colon completes a pitching workout -- long toss to full windup -- with a two-pound ball.

On some days, Colon works out with weights. On others, he builds leg strength by simulating his windup in his pool. On all days, he is willing.

At first, Nao says, that was not necessarily the case. Colon always paid him for the workouts, Nao says, but he did not always complete them.

“I pushed him quite a bit,” he says. “He said, ‘I’m not going to work.’ He’d take off. I’d get mad. He had to make changes. I thank God his mind started changing.

“Now he’s already thinking ahead, three or four years from now. Now he understands there’s a tomorrow, and what he has to do to survive four or five years ahead, for the next contract.”

By integrating training and physical therapy, and by personalizing a workout regimen targeting the motions and muscles in Colon’s delivery, Nao says, he has his ace client pitching at 75% efficiency.

“When he gets to 95%, I’m telling you right now,” Nao says, “he’s going to get the Cy Young.”


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