For a pitcher who prides himself on fuel efficiency, Mark Buehrle sure is acting like a gas guzzler lately.
Buehrle threw so many pitches Sunday against the lowly Kansas City Royals that his tank was empty after six innings and he was unable to complete what he had started, unable to hang around long enough to get a victory.
This is the same guy who finished games last year in 1 hour 39 minutes and 1:53. It took him an hour and a half to get through six innings of Sunday's game, which the White Sox won 3-2 on Joe Crede's RBI single in the eighth inning.
"I never thought in my life I was going to see Buehrle throw 100 pitches in five innings," Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "He couldn't find the strike zone.
"It's kind of funny because you get used to seeing this kid throw the ball in the middle of the plate and make them hit it. The last couple of outings he couldn't find a spot to throw a strike."
In his last two games, Buehrle has pitched only 112/3 innings and allowed 14 hits, six runs and three homers.
Here are the facts from a sun-kissed Sunday, witnessed by a U.S. Cellular Field sellout crowd of 38,870:
The Royals, the worst offensive team in the American League, put nine runners on base in six innings against Buehrle.
The Royals hit two home runs, this from a starting lineup that had hit a total of three home runs all season. Tony Graffanino and Emil Brown hit back-to-back homers, the first time any Royals players have done that since June 20, 2005.
Buehrle needed 22 pitches to get through the first inning, 58 to get through three. By the time he was pulled in a 2-2 tie after six, he had thrown a season-high 114 pitches. He needed just 88 pitches in eight innings the last time he faced the Royals.
What's wrong with Buehrle? Is it something mechanical, or are the innings (he has the second most in the majors since the start of the 2001 season) catching up to him?
"I feel fine," he said. "I think when I get ahead in the count, I'm trying to overpower guys instead of putting the ball where I want to.
"It's the last three starts. I'll take this outing every time [for run allotment], but I'm just disappointed in myself [because] the past couple years I could get into the sixth inning with no problem. Now, I can barely get there. It's just [failing to] get ahead in the count. [One hundred fourteen] pitches in six innings is unacceptable."
The good news is the Sox won the game and Buehrle avoided losing his third straight. With their eighth victory in the last 10 games, the Sox increased their Central Division lead over Detroit to 21/2 games.
But it wasn't easyagainagainst the worst team in baseball. The Sox didn't score until the fifth inning, when they took Buehrle off the hook with a pair of runs, both coming on Pablo Ozuna's triple. They won it for Brandon McCarthy when Crede singled in the eighth. Bobby Jenks earned his 10th save.
The game featured a strange play in the fourth inning. Crede's fly ball to left-center was first ruled a home run, then changed to a ground-rule double.
Royals center fielder Kerry Robinson misjudged the fly ball, leaped and reached over the railing, but the ball was held up by the wind and actually landed a few feet in front of Robinson on the warning track and bounced into the bleachers.
Crede admitted to thinking: "Well, maybe I can steal one right here."
He said the call was correct.
"I saw a replay and it wasn't even close," he said.
"I knew right away it was a double," Guillen said.
For White Sox fans who've already suffered through Jose Contreras' sore arm in spring training and Jon Garland's and Freddy Garcia's early ineffectiveness, Buehrle's recent troubles are something new to worry about.
"I have no explanation for it," Buehrle said.
Asked if he was worried, Guillen said: "Not really. If it happened to somebody else, I might be. But Buehrle can fix it in his next outing."
That makes Saturday's start at Minnesota a big one for the left-hander.
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