PHOENIX -- How did Lorenzo Cain get into shape for the start of what he hopes is a bounce-back season?
He cut out the midnight cake and ice cream.
Then he reported earlier than usual to Spring Training.
“I’m here to put some work in,” Cain said. “I feel like I had a disappointing season last year, and I feel like I need to do everything possible to get it right. I need to make sure my legs are underneath me. I lost a lot of weight this offseason, I’m trying to get a little lighter on my feet. Overall, just trying to stay healthy and improve on my disappointing season last year.”
That effort went beyond the weight room. Cain said he changed his diet with an assist from his wife, Jenny, a former University of Oklahoma gymnast.
“For me, I’m a big cake and ice cream guy,” Cain said with a laugh. “I’ve got to realize I’m not as young as I used to be, so it doesn’t fall off me like it used to. For me, I’ve got to have something before I go to bed at night, and it was usually cake and ice cream every night. My wife, she made me protein balls. That’s the biggest thing I’ve changed. Of course, the grilled chicken, the rice. Since we’ve been out here, it’s been a lot of True Food [a health-focused restaurant chain], healthy food. It’s difficult because I’m not the best eater, but I feel like it’ll be well worth it.”
Cain cut about 12 pounds over the winter in an effort to limit the stress on his lower body, which took a beating last season. After batting .308 with a career-best .395 on-base percentage in 2018 in the first season of his five-year deal with the Brewers, he battled left knee and ankle injuries in '19, as well as a painful nerve issue in his right hand. (Cain opted against getting a preventative cryotherapy treatment on the thumb this winter, but it is an option should the issue recur in '20.)
He slipped to a .260 average and a .325 OBP in '19. Cain’s saving grace was his sensational defense, which earned him a long-awaited Gold Glove Award. It was the first such honor of Cain’s career.
“What he has done sets a really high bar,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “That’s what you want, to keep chasing that. That’s what these guys are great at. They get challenges put in front of them and accept them. That’s what makes them great.”
Said Cain: “A lot of stuff bugged me last year -- OBP, average. Every category except on the defensive side of the ball bugged me last year. That’s why I’m here early. Things have got to change. I’ve got to get better, I’ve got to play better. I feel like when I’m on base, I’m playing better, I feel like we go as a team.”
The question is how much Cain will play in '20. The Brewers added Avisaíl García to an outfield mix that already includes Cain, Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun and Ben Gamel. Braun will see some action at first base in an effort to spread around at-bats, and the plan is for García to occasionally spell Cain in center.
That is sure to produce some conversations. Cain and Counsell have playfully battled the past two years every time Counsell tries to give the veteran, who turns 34 on April 13, a day off. That included late last season, when Cain’s left leg was essentially held together by tape. He fought for -- and won -- the chance to play in the National League Wild Card Game after severely re-injuring his left ankle sliding into home plate at Colorado in the next-to-last game of the regular season.
Counsell referred to the Wild Card Game -- which included a pair of terrific defensive plays by Cain in a loss to the Nationals, including a home run robbery -- as a “remarkable” effort.
“You know how I feel about [days off],” Cain said. “I want to be out there every day. He’s the manager. If he wants to give me a day off here and there, I guess I’ll have to accept that. … I’ll try to be a little open-minded this year. Just a little bit.”