VERO BEACH, Fla. -- After a miserable 2005 season, Odalis Perez was advised to hire a personal trainer. Perhaps the message was clear.
``It was somebody`s idea; I won`t tell who,`` the Los Angeles Dodgers` left-hander said with a smile.
Perez gave it a shot, and was sold after a week or so. Now, several months later, he thinks the decision holds the key to his season.
``Believe me, I`ll have a personal trainer from now on,`` he said. ``I feel totally different. My arm is stronger, my whole body is stronger. I came into camp thinner, about 14 pounds.
``I`ve had too many injuries. I don`t want that anymore. I want to be part of this new team, I want to be here for a long time. Most of the Dominican guys, they have personal trainers. You just need somebody next to you who knows all that kind of stuff.``
The Dodgers acquired Perez from the Atlanta Braves before the 2002 season, and he was an immediate success, going 15-10 with a 3.00 ERA and pitching in the All-Star game.
The 28-year-old pitcher hasn`t been the same since, going 12-12 with a 4.52 ERA in 2003; 7-6 with a 3.25 ERA in 2004, and 7-8 with a 4.56 ERA in only 19 games last year, when he spent nearly half the season on the disabled list because of soreness in his pitching shoulder and a strained muscle in his side.
Perez said he injured his shoulder the second time he threw last spring and wasn`t totally right the whole year. As he struggled, the Dodgers lost with regularity, going 71-91 for their second-worst season since moving west from Brooklyn in 1958.
``Playing the way we were playing, I didn`t have the desire to come to the ballpark,`` Perez said. ``This year, from what I see from the beginning of spring training, the chemistry is different.``
Perez, who signed a three-year, $24 million contract before last season, realizes a lot is expected of him, and he welcomes the high expectations.
``I think the key for this team to go a long, long way is on me,`` he said. ``I don`t see too many guys having my ability, my stuff. I came to camp to be a 20-game winner. Everybody here knows I can do it.
``It`s not a pressure. When you make the kind of money I`m making, you have to go out there and compete at that level. I want to show people I`m a winner. To do that, you have to be healthy.``
New pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, for one, is impressed.
``His work ethic is good, he`s finished everything we`ve asked him to do, he`s bouncing back well,`` Honeycutt said Saturday. ``It all kind of goes hand in hand. For where we`re at, he`s throwing the ball as well as anybody.
``What happened in the past is documented. All I`m concerned about is Odalis Perez in 2006. He worked hard in the winter, he`s got his weight down.``
Perez will pitch Sunday against the New York Mets before leaving the Dodgers to play in the World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic. He`s scheduled to work Thursday against Italy in Kissimmee, Fla.
Honeycutt has no problem with Perez`s decision to pitch in the Classic, and doesn`t share the concerns of others who fear a glut of injuries.
``It`s all speculation,`` Honeycutt said. ``They have set guidelines. The 65 pitches on the first round is probably a little advanced. We`re in communication with their people. There`s probably a little more intensity with the WBC than in exhibition games.``
Perez looks forward to pitching, but realizes where his main responsibility lies.
``The Classic is important for me. I want to represent my country,`` he said. ``The most important thing is to enter the season healthy. This is my job - I don`t get paid to pitch in the World Classic.``
Bet365.com has the Los Angeles Dodgers listed at +2500 to win the 2006 World Series.