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.”