Durable Buehrle upgrades Marlins’ rotation

Aside from signing a $58 million, four-year contract, Mark
Buehrle gave his left arm a rest during the offseason.

A less-than-rigorous winter routine has helped make Buehrle one
of baseball’s most durable and successful pitchers, which is why
the Miami Marlins offered him such a lucrative deal.

He threw only once before arriving for spring training, to the
astonishment of his new teammates.

”The other guys here were talking about throwing starting two
months ago, and they’re like, `You’re kidding me. Holy cow,”’
Buehrle said. ”I just said, `Hey, I’m throwing so much during the
season, this is the time to let my arm recover.”’

During the season, Buehrle throws more than anyone else. Since
his first full season in 2001, the left-hander leads the majors in
games started and innings pitched.

He has topped 200 innings each of the past 11 seasons, and
that’s his goal this year.

”Every year you’d like to win 20 games, but a lot of times
that’s out of your control,” Buehrle said. ”If I go 200 innings
and set that as a goal, you know you’re going deep in games and
giving yourself a change to win. If you’re at 150 or 160, you’re
not going deep enough in games, or you’re getting hurt. I’ve always
said going into spring training my goal is to go 200 innings, and
good things will happen.”

That has indeed been the case: The four-time All-Star ranks
fourth in victories since 2001 with 157, all for the Chicago White
Sox. He has thrown two no-hitters, one a perfect game. He went 13-9
with a 3.59 ERA last season, then became a free agent who found
himself wooed like never before.

As a prep pitcher, Buehrle received only a couple of college
offers, and he didn’t even hear from the White Sox before they
drafted him in the 38th round in 1998.

But in November he was heavily courted, which he described as
weird and surreal.

”My whole career I’ve never really been pursued like that,
having teams call you wanting you,” he said.

He opted for the Marlins in part because of the chance to keep
playing for Ozzie Guillen, who was also his manager in Chicago. The
signing was part of an offseason spending spree by the Marlins that
has transformed them into contenders as they move into a new
ballpark.

Buehrle upgrades a rotation that also includes ace Josh Johnson,
coming off a season curtailed by injury, and newcomer Carlos
Zambrano, a former All-Star.

Buehrle provides a contrast to the other starters, and not just
because he’s the lone left-hander. He concedes his fastball is
usually only around 85 mph, and some days it barely tops 80.

”The thing that amazes me about him is it takes a lot of guts
to go out there with the stuff he has,” Guillen said with a laugh.
”But he has been doing it year after year after year.

”He’s better than what people think. You look at the numbers,
and he’s one of the best pitchers in the game. He put a lot of
smiles on my face over my career.”

Despite Buehrle’s lucrative deal, he saw no reason to ramp up
his offseason regimen. Until a few years ago, he didn’t work out at
all in the winter. Now the Missourian does a little lifting to keep
his arm in shape, but the weights are 5 pounds or less.

Otherwise, he takes it easy and recharges.

”He’s on that redneck diet – meat, potatoes, eat a lot and
hunt,” catcher John Buck said. ”It makes you tough. He hunts in
cold weather. Maybe that gets rid of all the inflammation. Other
than that I don’t know how much he takes care of his body.”

Buehrle does have a history of tailing off late in the season.
Over the past three years, he’s 5-9 after Aug. 31 with an ERA of
5.36.

However, he said he doesn’t feel like he faded physically.

”It’s not like I get to the end of the season and I’m worn out
and can’t go anymore,” he said.

Buehrle also tends to be a slow starter, as Guillen is advising
everyone, including owner Jeffrey Loria.

”When you see Buehrle throw in spring training, I don’t think
you’re going to like him much,” Guillen said with a laugh. ”I
told the owner, `It can be pretty ugly. Don’t think, ”Oh my God,
look at who we signed.”` At the end of the day, the numbers are
going to be there.”