ORONO — Rumors of his weight loss have been somewhat exaggerated, but Keith Bilodeau is still in the best shape of his life.
After recommitting himself to eating healthier and undertaking a rigorous workout regimen, the junior is a new man this season for the University of Maine baseball team.
The righthander from Bourne, Mass., takes a 2-0 record and a 2.96 earned run average to the mound Saturday afternoon during the Black Bears’ four-game series at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J.
“I definitely have better command of my stuff and I’m getting ahead of the hitters, throwing first-pitch strikes,” Bilodeau said. “I find being more fit and more in shape makes it easier to go deep into games, too.”
The 6-foot-4 Bilodeau has dropped 25 pounds in the last several months and how weighs in at a svelte 190 pounds.
As a freshman, he came in at 230.
Bilodeau made the decision to get back into shape last summer while playing for Wareham of the Cape Cod Baseball League. He was motivated in his quest by seeing some of the other highly touted pitchers.
“You look around and you see the difference in the caliber of player (there),” he said. “I realized all right, this is it, I’ve got to get into shape.”
The key elements of his transformation were nutrition, exercise and moral support.
First, he gave up junk food and started eating healthier. He also began running more and working on strengthening his core (midsection).
Every step of the way, he was accompanied by some of his fellow Cape League players.
“It was a lot easier having people around you that were serious about it, too,” Bilodeau said. “We’d always work out together. It’d be a social thing, it would be fun. I looked forward to going to the field every day and getting work in.”
Bilodeau previously lagged near the back of the pack during the UMaine pitchers’ running sessions. Now he is among the front-runners.
“His work ethic has really picked up,” said UMaine assistant coach Jason Spaulding. “He’s a very competitive kid who just wants to win.”
Bilodeau has seen the benefits of his improved conditioning in both leg strength and stamina.
“Running’s really important,” he said. “To get deep into a game, your legs are just as important as your arm when it comes to pitching.”
UMaine head coach Steve Trimper said Bilodeau’s physical transformation has been bolstered by his maturity on the mound.
“He’s got experience. I think he’s understanding how to pitch,” Trimper said. “He’s using both sides of the plate, throwing three pitches for strikes, staying down on the ball and he’s using movement.”
Bilodeau was a versatile performer during his first two seasons. He appeared in 33 games, including 15 starts.
Last season, he was 4-2 with a save and a 5.98 ERA.
Now, he has thrust himself right to the top of the Bears’ rotation alongside sophomore Jeff Gibbs. Bilodeau has allowed 24 hits in 24 1/3 innings and has struck out 29 while walking nine. Opponents are hitting .258 against him.
“He was given an opportunity to win a starting job and he’s taken it on,” Spaulding said.
“He’s taken his game to a whole other level, not only physically, but mentally he’s very solid. “
Through it all, Bilodeau figures his diligence has earned him an occasional treat.
“I won’t hold back from eating dessert. Working hard makes it a lot easier (to justify),” he said.