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Season's first pitch just history for Buehrle

Season's first pitch just history for Buehrle

CHICAGO -- Sometime after he has retired, which could be in four or five years based on Mark Buehrle's past comments, the left-hander will sit down with his family and think about what the date of April 5, 2010, truly means.

"The records or stuff like that stick out more and mean more after you retire," said Buehrle, who will be making his eighth Opening Day start, facing the Indians at U.S. Cellular Field on April 5, and setting the White Sox franchise mark in that particular category. "Right now, it's just another start."

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That trip to the mound for Buehrle this Monday afternoon, with a 1:05 p.m. CT first pitch, breaks a tie with White Sox legend Billy Pierce for most Opening Day starts. Buehrle, who turned 31 on March 23, begins his 11th season with the White Sox and 10th as a starting pitcher, while coming off a 2009 season featuring amazing accomplishments and a strange finish.

Buehrle hurled the second perfect game in White Sox history and 18th in baseball history on July 23 at home against the Rays. He followed up that effort by setting the Major League record for most consecutive batters retired at 45 by knocking down the first 17 Twins during his next start at the Metrodome.

From the moments after the perfect game celebration through the end of the 2009 season, though, Buehrle finished with a 2-7 record and 4.78 ERA in 13 starts. That record was a bit deceiving, as Buehrle made six quality starts during this stretch and won only two of them.

Nonetheless, Buehrle and the White Sox looked at specific ways during the offseason and during Spring Training to make him stronger for the second half of the upcoming season.

"Yeah, we are always looking," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper of Buehrle. "The perception is after the perfect game he was all [garbage] and that's far from the truth. Was he as good? No. So we are looking to find ways to keep him healthy and strong through October."

One of those ways spoken of by Cooper was to skip one of Buehrle's starts during Spring Training to monitor his innings workload. That total piles up when you post 10 straight years of at least 200 innings pitched and at least 30 starts, not to mention double-digit victories, as Buehrle has done.

There also was added arm work during the winter months for Buehrle, who never engaged in such a program in the past. Judging by his 2.08 ERA this spring and the way he felt on the mound, Buehrle's extra effort seems to be paying dividends.

Chicago White Sox
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 LF Juan Pierre
2 2B Gordon Beckham
3 RF Carlos Quentin
4 1B Paul Konerko
5 DH Mark Kotsay
6 CF Alex Rios
7 C A.J. Pierzynski
8 3B Mark Teahen
9 SS Alexei Ramirez
Projected rotation
1 LHP Mark Buehrle
2 RHP Jake Peavy
3 RHP Gavin Floyd
4 LHP John Danks
5 RHP Freddy Garcia
Projected bullpen
CL RHP Bobby Jenks
SU LHP Matt Thornton
SU RHP J.J. Putz
MI RHP Tony Pena
MI RHP Scott Linebrink
MI LHP Randy Williams
MI RHP Sergio Sanots
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart

"I'm throwing the fastballs in and locating to righties the best it has been, even during the season," Buehrle said. "I've been working on getting lefties out, with Cooper talking about throwing in more to lefties -- even using offspeed.

"It's a long season. You have to stay on your arm program and do everything you can do to stay healthy and be there for every start."

Jake Peavy originally was considered as the Opening Day front-runner. Peavy wanted Buehrle to set the franchise record, believing this rotation still bares Buehrle's stamp on it even if the right-hander has become the staff ace, and pushed for his teammate to get the chance.

Pierce made his Opening Day starts in 1951-52, 1954 and from 1956-59. Pierce's name dots the White Sox pitching record book in other categories, with his 1,796 strikeouts for the South Siders setting the franchise mark and his 186 victories and 2,931 innings pitched as part of the White Sox ranking him fourth in each category. Buehrle sits fifth in strikeouts with 1,188, eighth in innings pitched at 2,061 and eighth in wins at 135.

Home runs allowed by White Sox pitchers features Pierce and Buehrle at the top of the chart, with Buehrle needing to give up six long balls in 2010 to surpass Pierce's total of 241. Buehrle simply hopes that dubious total doesn't get dented against the Indians.

"As far as the pitching part, he was before my time and I wouldn't really have a clue on his numbers," said a smiling Buehrle of Pierce. "But I know Billy, from meeting him and talking to him now, and he's a great guy."

Jersey No. 19 stands as one of the nine retired by the White Sox, in honor of Pierce. There's a good chance jersey No. 56 will be retired shortly after Buehrle calls it quits, and at that point, when he comes back to Chicago to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, he'll have better perspective on achievements such as eight Opening Day starts.

Attention on Monday also will be paid to Gordon Beckham's move to second, Alex Rios' ability to bounce back from a rough finish to 2009 or the play of new additions such as Mark Teahen at third and Juan Pierre in left. Buehrle is geared toward improving his 11-14 lifetime mark against the Indians in a pitching rematch of the 2005 opener between the left-hander and Jake Westbrook, as part of a day like none other during the regular season.

"Opening Day is Opening Day. There's nothing like it," said White Sox captain Paul Konerko, who will be making his 10th straight start at first base and 12th straight overall for the White Sox. "It's kind of everything that the rest of the season isn't. It's more like a football game that day. You see a lot of things happen on that day, with some guys doing good and some guys doing bad, that isn't comparative of how the season is going to go."

"With all the adrenaline going, it's kind of like a World Series game," Buehrle said. "You just have to try and maintain it."

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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