Joe Bircher may have had to double-check Wednesday morning, but his left arm was still attached after throwing 152 pitches a night earlier in a 2-0 loss to Kansas City at Haymarket Park.
Though pitch count is not recorded as an official stat, the Omaha native and Lincoln Saltdogs pitcher may have thrown the most pitches in a game in team history Tuesday.
"The first five innings were a little bit tough and I think I had to grind through it," Bircher said. "I think I threw 100 pitches through my first five innings, which is a little much. My last outing I went 4 2/3 (innings) and threw 110 pitches.
“The situation was such that I was getting outs and I knew we had 18 innings to play (in a Wednesday doubleheader) and I was just thinking, 'Let me go and see how long we can ride this out.' I was able to kind of grind through those rough patches with some of the walks and some of the hits and figure it out a little bit more. It was something beneficial to our bullpen and not just me.”
Bircher worked through five walks and five hits through nine innings, finishing with five strikeouts, including two in the final frame. He struck out the last batter he faced on his 152nd pitch.
The Omaha Roncalli graduate played college ball at Bradley, where he quickly learned every game was going to be a grind for a win, an experience that helped him work through Tuesday's early struggles. He set Bradley school records with career strikeouts (302) and innings pitched (359 2/3).
"At Bradley we weren't one of those teams where we could roll out there and beat teams,” Bircher said. “We had to scrap and battle for every possible win that we could get and it was like that from the time I was a freshman to the time I was a senior. By that fourth year it was just kind of the norm to go out there instead of putting it in cruise control; you had to put the pedal to the metal the whole way to hopefully make some noise in the conference tournament.
"That's really been helpful in professional baseball because a lot of times you play 20-25 games without a day off and it can be pretty easy to just think it's another day at the office."
Bircher's marathon outing Tuesday may have been a first for the 6-foot-4 lefty, but he's experiencing another first in his baseball career since joining the Saltdogs on July 13 in a trade with the Sioux Falls Canaries.
"I'm getting to live at home (Omaha) with my fiancee," Bircher said. "This is the first time I've been able to live at home playing baseball since I was in high school, so it's been a solid decade of traveling throughout the summer and it's kind of nice to sleep in my bed at night as opposed to always feeling like you are on the road."
Since graduating from Roncalli, Bircher has played across the United States. He spent two seasons in the Houston Astros' farm system after being a 10th-round pick in the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft, and then spent five seasons with Sioux Falls in the American Association before joining the Saltdogs. Bircher earned second-team all-state honors his junior and senior season at Roncalli and also led his American Legion team to consecutive Class B State titles in 2007 and 2008.