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Buehrle out to silence health concerns

Buehrle out to silence whispers

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Mark Buehrle takes a look back at Spring Training of 2005 and hopes history ultimately repeats itself in 2008.

Of course, the White Sox Opening Day starter for the sixth time in seven years could have done without the injury-induced drama three years ago, and he feels the same about the whispers concerning his health swirling over the past few weeks.

"I feel great, really unbelievable right now," said Buehrle, who will take the mound at Progressive Field on March 31 at 2:05 p.m CT against the Indians and reigning American League Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia.

That brief round of questioning concerning Buehrle's health took root prior to the first intrasquad game this spring, when he was scratched from the start with slight soreness in his shoulder. Buehrle also was replaced by Nick Masset for a March 15 start against the Cubs, which gave Buehrle nine days in between trips to the mound.

The reason for Buehrle's absence on this occasion was to manage his Cactus League innings after throwing the second-highest regular-season total (1,577 2/3 innings) in all of baseball since the start of the 2001 season.

"They said to say I'm scared," said Buehrle with a laugh, offering up another reason for his missed start. "It's a big game, and I'm scared to face the Cubs.

"I'm healthy," added Buehrle at the time of his scratched start. "If you don't believe me, watch me play catch and throw sides and judge for yourself."

In reality, the White Sox and Buehrle adopted a philosophy of why waste innings during Spring Training when they could be applied to the regular season. And they would be wasted, with Buehrle's needing just a couple of weeks work in Arizona to get ready for real competition.

His final tuneup came against the Rockies this past Tuesday at Hi Corbett Field, and now he looks forward to getting off to a good start against a prime playoff contender and a talented pitcher he hasn't defeated in their past four head-to-head starts. Buehrle also could put to rest any lingering worries about his health.

Those fears were a bit more grounded on March 20, 2005, when Buehrle heard a pop in his left foot while shagging fly balls and couldn't put any pressure on it that night. What was thought to be some sort of stress fracture quickly became a stress reaction, and Buehrle was pitching two days later.

By the end of that season, Buehrle had a 16-8 record, a career-best 3.12 ERA and had saved Game 3 of the World Series, as the White Sox captured their first World Series championship in almost nine decades. Following the team's 72-90 effort last year, it's little wonder Buehrle seemed ready to take one for the team during the spring if it meant an exact replica of 2005.

"Everyone joked around how it worked in 2005, so let's do it again," said Buehrle, who is coming off of a 2007 effort in which he earned his 100th career victory, hurled the 16th no-hitter in franchise history and won 10 games and worked at least 200 innings for the seventh straight year.

"I'm hoping for 20 wins and 200 innings pitched, but my wins aren't that important," Buehrle added. "As long as the team wins, it's not the end of the world for me."

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

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