It was hard to discern any signs of trouble based on his 13-10 record and 3.84 ERA, which included his ninth consecutive season with double-digit wins, at least 30 starts and 200 innings pitched, not to mention the 18th perfect game hurled in Major League Baseball history. But the crafty left-handed ace of the White Sox staff is taking steps for a stronger mound presence in 2010.
The 30-year-old southpaw has been focusing on shoulder strengthening, three times per week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in Missouri for the past two months. It was a program set up by White Sox athletic trainer Herm Schneider at a facility which works with Cardinals players such as Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols.
"I've been busting [it] to get better," Buehrle said.
"I'm ecstatic Buehrle is taking the time and care to work on his shoulder," White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. "No question about it."
Before panic sets in among White Sox faithful, with the pitching apparently serving as such a key element for 2010 title hopes, Buehrle wasn't exactly hurt last year. It's not like he suffered an injury costing him a chunk of the season or one requiring surgery.
Instead, it was the wear and tear from this unique starting durability showing less-than-desired effects.
"I don't think I've pitched healthy, pain-free or as strong as I can be recently as I did early in my career," Buehrle said. "When you have that many innings and have that many pitches build up, there's a chance you break down a little.
"We are doing it a little differently, but it's just all the stuff we do during the season, working on strengthening everything. Herm explained it. When you have soreness and fatigue during the season, it's like a scab. You are doing all the stuff and it's healing, but it's like peeling the scab and starting over when you pitch.
"So, we are letting the scab heal completely, and then we have to maintain it during the season," Buehrle said. "I've never done much of an arm program. I just picked up a ball and threw 33 starts and 200 innings, and felt great. But it starts catching up to you."
Cooper said the White Sox will continue to be careful with Buehrle during Spring Training and early on in the season, possibly skipping a start or two in Arizona and giving Buehrle an extra day of rest when possible. The challenge is for Buehrle to produce a strong second half, after finishing with a 4-7 record and 4.06 ERA following the 2009 All-Star break.
For his career, Buehrle has a 74-46 first-half record with a 3.57 ERA, and a 61-51 mark with a 4.08 ERA in the second half. Maybe this extra bit of offseason conditioning will help Buehrle sustain his excellence in 2010.
"There was a misconception last year when I was talking about his conditioning," said Cooper of Buehrle. "I wasn't saying he was fat and slobby, or out of shape and not ready. He was in good shape.
"He just wasn't doing the throwing and the arm stuff I needed him to do, but he was hurting. Now, we are looking to quiet down that area, giving him the best chance of being healthy and strong."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.