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Twins’ Nolasco plans for bounce-back year

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In the newly configured Twins spring training clubhouse, a wall was extended that provides a modicum of privacy to a single corner locker.

FORT MYERS, Fla. - In the newly configured Twins spring training clubhouse, a wall was extended that provides a modicum of privacy to a single corner locker.
That locker, which also happens to be closest to the renovated workout room, was assigned to Ricky Nolasco, who is more than happy to have a little space to himself.
“Yeah, I love it,” the Twins’ right-handed pitcher said this week with a smile.
That smile may have been on display more in the first three days of spring training than in Nolasco’s entire injury-marred debut season with the club.
Consistent results were hard to come by after he signed a four-year, $49 million deal that ranked at the time as the richest in Twins free-agent history.
Health was elusive until Nolasco, 32, spent six weeks on the disabled list at midseason with a strained throwing elbow.
As he begins Year 2, however, Nolasco seems noticeably more at ease.
He won’t have the added pressure of fronting the rotation. Phil Hughes will get the nod on Opening Day.
Ervin Santana is drawing the media attention this spring, having signed a four-year, $55 million free-agent pact in December.
Nolasco? He can hang out behind his wall and conduct his business in relative peace.
“It’s a lot easier coming in, knowing the guys,” Nolasco said. “It was kind of tough last year not knowing (anybody), although that didn’t have anything to do with it. You come in, you know the attendants, you know the staff, you know everybody that works here. It definitely helps.”
Adding to his comfort level is a renewed commitment to conditioning that saw him drop at least 15 pounds this offseason.
“Honestly, I haven’t really been looking at the scale,” Nolasco said. “There’s definitely a difference. There was a goal I had in mind, and that was just to get leaner and stronger and not really worry about the weight.”
Along with former Miami Marlins teammates Giancarlo Stanton and A.J. Ramos, Nolasco worked with two different personal trainers.
A male trainer who focused on strength would come to the house the three friends shared.
A female trainer worked with the group at the gym and supervised cardio sessions at a nearby track.
“They were both different,” Nolasco said. “We had some really good workouts. They both did really good work.”
So did the live-in female chef who cooked for the group, Monday through Friday.
“We ate clean for a solid three months,” Nolasco said. “Saturdays were our cheat days, but we still kept it pretty decent. We didn’t go eat doughnuts or anything like that.”
The biggest addition to Nolasco’s revamped diet?
“Vegetables,” he said. “I don’t eat too many vegetables as a Mexican. It was good just to stay away from a lot of Mexican food.”
The toughest dish for Nolasco to give up?
“My mom’s food,” he said with a smile. “I didn’t spend much time at home this offseason. I’d just go home for the weekends and see my family. I was just trying to keep it clean and not waste the hard work that we’d been doing.”
It helped to have close friends putting themselves through the same physical and dietary sacrifices.
“We helped each other a lot,” Nolasco said. “We’d tell each other no or agree one day a week we can just kind of do whatever.”
The results have been apparent. After Monday’s bullpen session, Hughes raved about the quality of Nolasco’s sinking fastball.
“It was one of the best sinkers I’ve seen,” Hughes said. “That was encouraging to see. I think he’s really going to have a bounce-back year.”
Nolasco has been throwing bullpen sessions for a few weeks, and he already can feel the difference in his elbow. Having that extra finish on his pitches would explain the increased movement.
“It’s been good these last couple of weeks … being able to let things go a tad bit more (with) a little more extension,” Nolasco said. “I think that will help to know I’m not restraining anything. I feel a lot better.”
Physically and mentally, it seems.
Sometimes it comes down to embracing your situation.
“I can look at things any way I want to,” Nolasco said. “I’m always going to be hungry, I’m always going to be fighting and being competitive, no matter where I am, no matter what my situation is. Obviously there’s a little more to it this year, so I’ll just use it to my advantage.”
After posting a 2.93 earned-run average in five September starts, Nolasco is poised to atone for a lost 2014.
“I’m definitely past what I did,” he said. “I felt pretty good last year when I came back. Just being able to pitch and not think too much helps. I’m not really trying to think about that. I’m just worried about what I can do from here on out and … “
Here he paused and smiled before adding the kicker.
“Shut some people up.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA TWINSBASEBALL
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