Third base coach Brian Butterfield was one of many who did a double-take upon spotting left-handed starter Brett Cecil, who lost 33 pounds since last seen in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform.
"Butter said he did not recognize me at all," Cecil said Monday. "He said he had to come over to see who the new lefty was."
Cecil, eager for change after posting a 4-11 record last season and spending two months in the minors, shook his head and chuckled.
"Butter said, 'In all seriousness, I didn't recognize you.'"
Cecil, 25, said he knew what people were saying last year, when he struggled after showing such promise in going 15-7 for the Blue Jays in 2010.
"When I had a bad game," Cecil said, "they said I was too heavy. If that was right or wrong doesn't matter. I had to make changes, and what I am doing right now makes for a much healthier lifestyle."
Cecil, 6 foot 1, was listed at 235 pounds last season. But he said he had not weighed that little since his rookie season of 2009, when he went 7-4.
"I weighed 252 pounds by the end of last year," Cecil said after throwing a bullpen session at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. "I'm 219 today. My foot quickness is so much better, everything is so much better."
Does he feel like a new man?
"Yes," Cecil said. "Yes, I do."
He said it was a matter of altering the way he ate more than what he ate, and coupling that with an emphasis on core strengthening to regain the leg drive so important to a pitcher.
He said trainers and coaches showed him a video after the season that "measured the biomechanics" and the "speed of my body parts" throughout the pitching motion.
"My legs were skipping the core and not giving me the torque needed from the core," Cecil said.
Being overweight factored into that.
"It was not that I cut out going to McDonald's or Wendy's," Cecil said. "But instead of eating three times a day with really big meals, I went to five and six smaller meals. That keeps the protein in and the energy up. I sustain much better."
Blue Jays manager John Farrell was asked if that could mean more innings per outing for Cecil, who made it to the eighth inning in just three starts last year.
"That should translate into going deeper into the game," Farrell said.
Farrell, who was the pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox before taking over the Jays last year, said the improved conditioning will allow Cecil to better repeat his delivery and thus improve pitch command.
"He is clearly committed and is in great physical condition," Farrell said. "The credit needs to be given to him."
Cecil said that "some deep reading" also has made a strong contribution to his turnaround.
"I feel like I have purpose," said the 2007 first-round pick from the University of Maryland. "My intensity level has gone from six to 12 on a scale of 1-to-10."
He showed a reporter his iPhone reader to pull a quote from Tao of Jeet Kune Do by the late martial arts icon Bruce Lee: "All life is a truth that can be fully realized only when false notions of a separate self, whose destiny can be considered apart from the whole, are once forever annihilated."
What does that mean to Cecil?
"Get rid of the bull [crap]" he said. "Do what needs to be done. Throw ego out the window and just do it."
McGowan on track Farrell said starter Dustin McGowan, who threw a bullpen session Friday and will do so again Wednesday, doesn't require any special handling. He missed more than three years and required rotator cuff surgery before returning for four starts last September.
"He's throwing very well," Farrell said. "There are no ill effects. And he's feeling good about himself."
McGowan said: "I'm normal again. It was so different this off-season. I got to relax, and it was good to give my arm a rest."
Special to The Globe and Mail