Berken said he’s lost about 30 pounds this winter by increasing his training, running more and eliminating certain foods from his diet.
Fellow reliever Jim Johnson provided the first dose of motivation after the season by advising Berken to cut out fried foods. Berken also stopped drinking sodas and pulling his car into fast-food lanes.
“It was really important for me to utilize my time well,” he said. “Coming back from the (shoulder) injury especially, you want to be able to say you did everything you could to get back, and I feel like physically I’m at an all-time best for myself going back to high school.
“I think it hit home for me last year. I remember Nick (Markakis) talking about part of our job description is to be in good shape. I feel like that’s important, and for me to be in good shape is only going to help me.
“It was tough for me because I had a pretty bad diet last year. I’m one of those guys who can put on weight real fast, so I have to watch it.”
Berken has been long-tossing and will throw off a mound for the first time next week in Atlanta. His season was cut short by a slight tear in his labrum, but it hasn’t slowed him down this winter. He expects to arrive in Sarasota about five days earlier than the Feb. 13 reporting date.
Berken posted a 1.60 ERA in his first 27 games, but he allowed 13 earned runs in his last 17 1/3 innings before the Orioles shut him down. He went on the disabled list Aug. 16. At the time of his injury, he ranked second among American League relievers with 62 1/3 innings.
“I feel so good that I’m healthy,” he said. “Running into the arm injury and the uncertainty with that, not really knowing if I needed to have surgery or not and trying to avoid it ... not having it and being able to rehab through it was the best decision I made, because right now I feel incredible.
“You don’t know how much you appreciate it until somebody takes it away from you. I’m excited, I’m ready and I’m just looking forward to getting back on a mound.”
Berken will throw sides sessions for two weeks before reporting to spring training, which is his usual routine.
“I’m 100 percent on track,” he said. “I’m on schedule, I’m ready. I started rehabbing Nov. 1. I did a month and a half of rehab, then I started throwing after that and I’ve had no setbacks, no soreness. I’m on pace and I’m on schedule. I’m ready.”
Berken doesn’t know his role for 2011, though he figures to work in long and middle relief.
“I just want to be a part of this team,” he said. “If I had a chance to start again, it would be awesome, it would be great, but if I’m in the ‘pen, that’s fine. I’m just anxious to be healthy again. Whatever opportunity I get, I’ll be ready. That’s my main focus.”