BOSTON -- Lance Lynn is a mere shadow of his former self, and that's a good thing.
A year ago, when he took the mound at Busch Stadium to start Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, the Cardinals right-hander was pushing 280 pounds. Lynn had an opportunity to send the Giants packing and send the Cards to the World Series, but instead, he gave up four runs in 3 2/3 innings. San Francisco won the game, and the next two, to take the pennant.
"During the offseason, I thought a lot about that last start," Lynn says. "It wasn't very good."
Lynn also thought a lot about what it would take to be a 200-inning pitcher. He had come into Spring Training in 2012 expecting to be pitching out of the bullpen, but Chris Carpenter's nerve issue opened up a spot in the rotation. Lynn went on to be an All-Star and win 18 games, but it didn't take him long to realize his 6-foot-5 body wasn't in shape to handle the grind of the 176 innings he pitched, much less a starter's goal of 200.
Lynn, who has always trended toward the heavier side, put on more and more weight as the season went on. He was fatigued and achy, and his numbers ballooned along with his belt size.
In the first half of 2012, Lynn had an ERA of 3.41. In the second half, it rose to 4.32, and he hit a high of 6.66 in seven August outings, five of them starts.
Last offseason, Lynn decided to take control of his weight, and by extension, his game.
"When the season ended last year, Lance had hit a high-water mark as far as weight," St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak said. "He was fatiguing. He just wanted to take a hard look at what's the right strategy to approach being a 200-inning pitcher, so he looked at his conditioning and his nutrition."
Lynn talked to Cardinals starters Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook and Carpenter about their preparations, both in-season and offseason. He worked with Cards strength and conditioning coach Pete Prinzi to create an offseason training program that would address his weaknesses and accelerate weight loss. And Lynn took team chef Simon Lusky home to Oregon for a week, where Lynn and his wife Lauren learned the ins and outs of selecting and preparing healthy food.
"It was about learning to make food that was good for me actually taste good, instead of being bland," Lynn says. "Simon taught us to season things and make things that are good for you and taste good. He made fish not taste fishy and chicken not taste boring and dry."
Lynn's favorites -- pizza and beer -- were dropped from the menu.
"I'm allowed to drink vodka and water," he says. "That's it."
As the weight began to come off, Lynn had an easier time getting through his workouts. He was able to work out harder, longer and more often.
"My workouts didn't really change, but as the weight came off, it got easier and easier to get through the workouts," he says. "When you feel the difference, it's no wonder everything hurt me before, not only while working out but just getting out of bed."
When Lynn weighed in at Spring Training in February, he was 239 pounds; it was the leanest he'd been since he was a teenager, and it was 41 pounds lighter than he had been the previous fall. He was met with the requisite jokes: Who's the new guy? Where's your other half? Did you lose something?
"You saw a drastic, dramatic difference come Spring Training," says Mozeliak, who lost 30 pounds himself several years ago on a diet similar to Lynn's. "He looks great. He's put himself in a spot where he knows what he has to do to prepare for each season."
Lynn has gained about 10 pounds back since Spring Training, simply as a result of playing more games and working out less, and of eating a little less cleanly on the road than he does at home.
"In clubhouses on the road, they usually just put out pasta and bread, and there's always lots of candy," Lynn says. "But I've been able to keep the base at home and that helps, so I haven't added weight as much as I did in past seasons."
Should Lynn want to lose more weight this offseason, he has the knowledge and the discipline to shed it quickly and safely. But for the time being, Lynn is happy where he is, both on the scale and in the stat columns.
Lynn went 15-10 with 198 strikeouts in 201 2/3 innings this season. His ERA was steady throughout: 4.00 in the first half, 3.93 in the second, including a 2.12 mark in September for a strong finish.
Lynn has a 2-1 record with 12 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings in the postseason. He's ready to pitch in the World Series, be it as the Cardinals' Game 4 starter or out of the bullpen.
"I'm more flexible and I don't have the aches and pains I've had in the past and in last year's playoffs, especially in my knees, back and hips," he says. "If you don't have the aches and pains, you feel better when you pitch and it's a lot easier to go out there every day."
That's good for Lynn and good for the Cards.
Lindsay Berra is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @lindsayberra. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.