VERO BEACH, Fla. -- A bench job and a free pass to the buffet line were not a good combination for Kelly Shoppach's waistline. "The [food] spreads in the big leagues are pretty good," Shoppach said the other day, and assumedly his stomach would agree. Shoppach had quite a list of things to get used to last season, as he made the transition from an everyday catcher in the Minors to Victor Martinez's backup with the Indians. Among those was watching his weight.
"I had to be sure," he said, "to keep my body from ballooning." The 26-year-old Shoppach is listed at 6-foot, 220 pounds in the Indians media guide. He said he weighed roughly 25 pounds more during Spring Training of 2006, after the Indians acquired him from the Red Sox in the Coco Crisp trade, than he does now. "My diet was a little bit different this offseason," he said. "The resources here [in the Indians' organization] give you every opportunity to do what you need to do. I've lost eight or nine pounds of fat. I'm not on like a crash diet or anything. I just give up that double cheeseburger at midnight now. I've just tried to be smarter with how I eat." The Indians wanted to see Shoppach smarter at the dinner table so his body can more easily adapt to the grind of a 162-game season. Manager Eric Wedge, for one, was happy with the Shoppach who walked through the door at Chain of Lakes Park last month and the one whose taken the field this spring season. "As good as he was before, he's even better now," Wedge said. "It's about redefining his body and giving himself a better chance to move around back there." Shoppach was "back there" behind the plate for 41 games last season. He also started 21 games for Triple-A Buffalo after the Indians sent him down for a month from late May to late June to get more consistent playing time. Once Martinez began getting some starts at first base, Shoppach's opportunities with the Indians increased. And that will be the case again, from the outset of this season, especially given the flash Martinez has shown at first. But Shoppach isn't waiting on Martinez's first-base skills to determine how often he's calling catching for Cleveland. "A lot of it comes down to if I force the issue," he said. "If I get in there and play well, I'm sure they'd be more comfortable putting me in there. I know my role will be more significant this year." Shoppach's skills at his position are unquestioned. He's got a gun for an arm, and he used it to nail all three of the Braves -- or should that read brave? -- runners who attempted to steal off him Saturday in Winter Haven. Last season, he threw out 10 of 29 (34.5 percent) potential basestealers, and an informal polling of Indians pitchers reveals Shoppach calls a good game.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.