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Leaning on Lonnie

Leaning on Lonnie

Two thoughts ran through trainer Lonnie Soloff's mind April 3 as he visited the mound at U.S. Cellular Field, where left-hander C.C. Sabathia's previous pitch left him wincing.

Soloff's first thought was that Sabathia's abdomen had simply pinched his hip, causing momentary discomfort that would have allowed him to remain in the game Opening Day.

But after a few ineffective warmup pitches, Soloff's second thought -- a muscular strain -- proved to be the right one as Sabathia was removed from his first start this season.

Diagnosing such injuries is a small component of Soloff's job, yet it's a vital one. For a misdiagnosis of a player could, perhaps, result in a more significant injury that might lead to a lengthier stay on the disabled list.

Yet Soloff and his staff have done their homework. They know Grady Sizemore's physical profile is different than Ronnie Belliard's. And knowing each player's profile -- health history, injury history, surgical history -- allows Soloff to make quick diagnoses.

"Knowing your athlete is so important," Soloff said. "Knowing what C.C.'s normal mound presence is will differ from what Bob Wickman's normal mound presence is. You have to keep a keen eye on that to know whether they're laboring or having some issues on the mound."

A work history between a trainer and an athlete helps identify issues, too.

"Having spent two and a half years with C.C., I know he has a very high pain tolerance," Soloff said. "When I approached him on the mound and he tells me that he hurt his side and it felt similar to how he felt last [Spring Training], it gives me an idea of what we're dealing with instantly."

Still, Soloff's job is far from complete at that initial diagnosis. He has to determine the player's length of recovery time and what sort of activities the player can do to return to the playing field.

Case in point: Sabathia. Immediately after Sabathia suffered that strained oblique muscle, Soloff instructed him to keep the abdominal region of his body relatively quiet for two to three days.

"Once you're past that, you can start to activate that muscular through exercise, cardiovascular activities," Soloff said. "The whole process is a step-by-step process of adding stress in a controlled environment to that body part.

"You base it on your clinical examination. The day after (the injury) will tell you a lot about how long they'll be injured or disabled, too."

Injured players aren't the only ones Soloff treats. He deals with active players daily and sets pregame and postgame workout routines for each individual player.

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Travis Hafner's routine is among the most professional he's ever seen.

"He comes in, goes to the hot tub and spends 10 minutes there. He'll then go from the hot tub to the therapy pool, where he goes through a purposeful lower body and upper body warmup just to get his temperature up a little bit.

"From there, he goes to his baseball activities. But every day, same time. He handles his approach very well."

So does Wickman, whose preparation begins long before the bullpen gate swings open in the ninth inning.

"He understands his body so well that he knows what he has to do to be ready for each game," Soloff said. "He spends half an hour, 45 minutes on the exercise bicycle after [batting practice]. He comes in during the first inning, gets a lower body stretch and upper body stretch; gets his shoulder worked on.

"After the game, he spends half an hour where he's jogging in the pool."

A consistent workout routine is one factor that has allowed Wickman, 37, to prolong his career despite an injury history.

"It's one thing to keep pitching, but to keep pitching at a high level speaks to his preparation," Soloff said. But all players who set conditioning goals and stick by them are setting themselves up for success.

"The athletes who have set these short-term and long-term goals and are very diligent about their treatment and preparation are almost always successful in the long run," Soloff said.

Kevin Yanik is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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