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Notes: Swisher bulks up in barn

Notes: Swisher bulks up in barn

PHOENIX -- It's not unusual for A's outfielder/first baseman Nick Swisher to report to camp looking a lot bigger than he did at the end of the previous season. Like most players, he shrinks a little over the course of baseball's long summer, so he uses the winter months to bulk back up.

And given that Swisher shrunk even more than is typical last season as the result of a lengthy bout with a form of mononucleosis, it wasn't the slightest bit unusual that he checked in at Papago Park on Sunday looking like a body-builder.

"I'm up to 220 [pounds]," said Swisher, his chest, shoulders and biceps bulging. "And it's not a fat 220, either."

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What's unusual are the methods Swisher used to build his new body.

"I worked out in a barn, bro. No lie," he said. "A big-ol' barn. Shoveling stuff, busting up concrete, chopping trees, stuff like that. I call it 'functional training.' I even pushed my truck up a hill a bunch of times."

The unorthodox approach was the brainchild of Swisher's longtime strength coach, Al Johnson, a fellow native of Parkersburg, W. Va. Knowing that Swisher's high-energy personality craves the stimulation of variety, Johnson wanted to get his client out of the mundane routine of traditional weight-lifting sessions.

"He just said to me one day, 'Let's mix it up, Swish,' and that's what he came up with," Swisher said. "I was all for it."

A's manager Bob Geren said Swisher has been equally receptive to the idea of having to bounce between the infield and outfield again this season.

"I talked to him at FanFest and said, 'If the season opened today, I'd probably need to move you around quite a bit. Are you OK with that?'" Geren explained. "And he said, 'Yeah, whatever you want me to do.'"

Swisher struck a similar chord Sunday, saying he'd do whatever is deemed best for the team, but he's said in the past that he'd like to drop anchor at first base at some point. And when Swisher and Geren spoke at FanFest, the A's hadn't yet signed outfielder Shannon Stewart, whose presence might mean more infield time for Swisher.

"He's very valuable at both spots," Geren said of Swisher's versatility. "He's a very good outfielder and a very good first baseman."

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Swisher hit a career-high 35 homers and drove in 90 runs in 2006. Asked if being able to focus on one position might lead to even better numbers, Geren hesitated.

"Last year he moved around a lot and his performance was fine," the skipper said. "I'll just say this: We want him to have another great season, and we want him in the lineup as much as possible. He's a very good player who's going to keep getting better."

Spring strategy: Geren said he's not sure if he needs to carry two lefties in the bullpen, but if he does, one of them likely will be a specialist brought in exclusively to retire tough left-handed hitters.

"We have some guys who can do that," Geren said, mentioning Rule 5 draftee Jay Marshall and non-roster invitee Erasmo Ramirez by name. "And we'll put them in some of those situations this spring."

Geren also plans to purposely pit some of his right-handed relievers against left-handed hitters. Kiko Calero, who relies heavily on his slider, will be among them.

"I'd like to see some of these guys get put in a position where they have to use their changeup a little more, and that's what a righty needs to do against a lefty," Geren explained.

Dribblers ... Righty Dan Haren is working on improving his cut fastball, which he likes to throw inside to left-handed hitters to keep them off his tailing two-seam fastball. "Last year I'd throw it a couple times, and if it didn't work, I'd stop throwing it," he said. "I'd like to get it to the point where I have more confidence in it." ... Add infielder Lou Merloni to the growing list of position players who have checked in prior to the official reporting date of Feb. 21. Merloni, Swisher and prospect Daric Barton even assisted the coaches during pitchers' fielding drills. ... The line of the day was provided by general manager Billy Beane as he watched the mass bullpen sessions: "It's like the first episode of 'The Bachelor' -- they're all amazing!"

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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