Buehrle's durability not lost on White Sox

Buehrle's durability not lost on White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The number checks in at 31,130. And very soon, it will grow.

No, this total does not represent the amount of days since Chevy Chase last made a humorous movie or the number of days since Halley's Comet last appeared. Instead, this total defines the amount of pitches thrown by Mark Buehrle in the course of his decade-long regular-season career.

It's an amount which even momentarily startled Buehrle, whose original guess of 2,000 total pitches was just a bit off the mark. A starting pitcher amasses such a lofty total when he makes at least 30 starts and hurls at least 200 innings in each of his nine seasons as part of the rotation, an accomplishment achieved by the crafty left-hander, despite not having close to the greatest raw stuff in the American League.

Of even greater amazement for Buehrle's teammates, though, is how he's never missed any significant time due to injury during this durable run.

"He's definitely kind of the model of the durable innings-eater," said White Sox starter John Danks, a protege and friend of Buehrle. "The guy goes out and gives you the chance to win every night and gets deep into the game. You know, he's a guy that us young guys watch and are trying to eventually get to that level."

"If you look over the course of a pitcher's career, it seems like every couple of years in or five years in, everybody does go down with something, even if it's not major surgery," Buehrle said. "You have tendinitis or something like that, or you get shut down for two weeks or miss a couple of starts. You look at everyone else and figure eventually you would."

So, how has Buehrle managed to consistently stay on the mound, barring a skipped start ordered by the team, either to give him a little extra rest or because the White Sox basically are out of contention? Well, Buehrle has been blessed with good luck.

Take a start Buehrle made against Cleveland in Game 3 of the 2007 season, the only time in the last 10 years when Buehrle hasn't pitched on Opening Day. With one out in the second inning, Ryan Garko drove a line drive off the pitching arm of Buehrle for a single.

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Shortly after the moment of impact, Buehrle didn't think much of the after-effects. That thought process changed when White Sox athletic trainer Herm Schneider came to the mound.

"Herm asked me, 'Where did it get you?' And I showed him where it was, said I was fine. Then I looked down and kind of got scared," Buehrle said. "There was a big golf ball on my arm.

"That made my heart sink, not knowing if it was broke. Herm and [assistant athletic trainer] Brian Ball worked it out and got me back out there."

Not only did Buehrle get "back out there," but he was healthy enough to no-hit the Rangers two weeks later. Buehrle lists the no-hitter and his amazing perfect-game performance against Tampa Bay on July 23 as the most surprising moments of his illustrious career. Well, those two pitching gems and the home run he hit at Milwaukee.

"With how bad of a swing I have, that ranks right up there, too," said Buehrle with a laugh.

Going through an entire lineup without giving up a baserunner, especially a lineup as potent as the Rays, becomes even more ridiculous when factoring in Buehrle relying so much on the defense behind him as a contact pitcher. There aren't a great deal of fastballs blown by the opposition when you are throwing 88 or 89 mph.

"Eighty-eight is generous, it really is," said a smiling Danks of Buehrle's velocity. "It's something where [pitching coach Don Cooper] and I joke there is living proof there's a God because Buehrle goes out there with his fastball and gets outs. He just throws strikes and knows how to pitch. He doesn't let anything bother him."

Mark Teahen, now Buehrle's teammate, has 24 hits in 53 career at-bats against Buehrle, working out to a .453 average with eight doubles and six RBIs. Teahen laughed when asked for his secret to hitting Buehrle, as if he was going to give up that information now that they are teammates.

But he also explained how Buehrle is not the type of pitcher who causes a hitter to walk back to the dugout asking, 'How did I not get a good swing off of that guy?'

"Some guys blow you away with a fastball. Some guys just can pitch. He pitches," said Teahen. "He knows what he's doing out there.

"He throws a lot of pitches for strikes and quality strikes, not just over the middle, never giving you anything for free. You see what he's doing and understand exactly how he got you out."

Two more years remain on Buehrle's four-year, $56 million extension, agreed upon in 2007. The soon-to-be 31-year-old has spoken numerous times of possibly hanging up the glove and spikes after the 2011 season, although he said his wife, Jamie, calls him out and said he probably won't.

Even if he works another few years after this current contract, Buehrle does not have another 31,130 pitches left. Make that, 31,540 when factoring in the postseason.

His perfect game and no-hitter were the most surprising moments of his career. His 200-inning consistency on the mound and the fact that the White Sox have a 161-127 record in games he has started stand out as his proudest accomplishments.

"Mark can be in the category with some of the game's greatest and best, but he's kind of on the back burner," Danks said. "He doesn't worry about that. He just worries about taking the ball every five days."

"Obviously, you try to get to 20 wins, but going 200 innings, that as a starting pitcher is a mark to set your standards," Buehrle said. "Doing it for nine years in a row, and not being on the disabled list, not missing a start, except at the end of the year when we are out of it. ... It's just going out every five days and doing what I have to do."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.