PHOENIX -- Though Tommy John surgery was just around the corner, Brett Anderson did find solace away from the mound in the days leading up to his major operation in 2011.
Such comfort was tucked away in the kitchen.
"Binge eating. Depression eating. What else was I supposed to do? I was going to have surgery, anyway," Anderson said.
The A's lefty reached 250 pounds, not too far off from where he weighed in during the previous couple of years, but certainly not where he needed to be to help himself enjoy a long career once it resumed.
Anderson knew that time wouldn't come for at least another year, affording him thousands of hours to replace his old eating habits with new ones, and to construct a workout routine that would keep him too busy to even think about trips to the kitchen, which before were inspired mostly by boredom.
"There's never a better time to change when you can't do anything else," he said. "It's never fun to be hurt for an extended period of time, but in my case it was probably a blessing in disguise, where it took something like that to realize I should probably make some changes."
"In my opinion, having that surgery was the best thing that's happened to him," an A's staff member said.
Anderson lost 25 pounds during his year-long rehab, a number written about just as many times, if not more, since his August return last year. The inspiring story, magnified by the immediate success he enjoyed during the final months of the season and into the playoffs, has been told countless times. Anderson's finally ready to write a new one.
The southpaw, one of six players dealt to Oakland from the D-backs in the 2007 Dan Haren deal, reported to A's camp on Monday at 225 pounds, right where he wants to be. He's fully healthy, and despite still being just 25 years old, he's being looked upon as the leader of Oakland's youthful staff and is likely primed for an Opening Day start in less than two months following a pleasantly normal offseason.
"It was good to have a normal offseason like a normal baseball player where I didn't have to worry about rehabbing," he said. "I could just focus on being ready and being healthy and getting ready for the season. I feel good, my body feels good, nothing of concern at this point. It's actually weird going into the season feeling 100 percent."
Anderson, who has been limited to 38 starts over the last three seasons due to four stints on the disabled list, celebrated rehab-free days and embraced this normalcy in the winter by not risking the chance of losing it. He remained with his family in Houston, where his father, Frank, a renowned college baseball coach, has settled into a new job as the pitching coach at the University of Houston. He woke early. He got his workouts in at the college campus. He ate mom Sandra's cooking -- "She's not a very good cook," Anderson said, "so it helps because then I don't eat as much" -- and then repeated the same routine the next day.
"Maybe I'll do something fun next offseason," he said.
First he wants to make at least 30 starts for the A's this year, something he hasn't done since 2009.
"The way he finished up last year, we're obviously very optimistic about what he can do for us this year," pitching coach Curt Young said. "You go through that injury and you basically put two years of rehab in. He's beyond that and he can just worry about making his starts, which is good for Brett, good for us."
Anderson won his first four starts after coming back from surgery, posting a minuscule 0.69 ERA while walking just three in 26 innings. He lost his next two starts and suffered an ill-timed oblique strain, before making a seemingly miraculous comeback in short time to pitch Game 3 of the American League Division Series. Anderson allowed two hits in six shutout innings in Oakland's 2-0 win, saving the team from elimination.
"He showed us a lot there at the end, gave us a lot," right-hander Jarrod Parker said. "That's the type of stuff you see from a leader. He may not be very vocal, but he doesn't have to be."
The wry Anderson joked that "maybe my eccentric personality will come out more this year" but safely assumes his role as a leader will likely mirror the one held by the likes of former teammate Brandon McCarthy, who was looked upon with much respect by youngsters by just going about his usual business.
"We're going to have the most boring pitching staff for awhile, with all the young guys, until they come out of their shells," Anderson said, laughing. "You can't get [Tommy] Milone to talk, and Parker is kind of the same way. [A.J.] Griffin's a bit eccentric, but that's about it. I'm not going to be that rah-rah guy, but hopefully guys know they can come and talk to me."
Should they take him up on the offer, they'll likely be able to find Anderson in the weight room, where the pitcher spends a good chunk of his spring mornings on the stationary bike, much like he did while rehabbing next to Billy Beane -- while the A's general manager was recovering from shoulder surgery -- last year.
"I gotta give Billy some credit," Anderson said. "He pushed me, because I would never let him go longer than me. One day I stayed on the bike for an hour and 45 minutes.
"I'm never going to be athletic by any means, but hopefully I've built a durable frame that's going to carry me between starts."