Sale proving to be Sox's stopper
CHICAGO – If someone had declared on June 9, 2011 Chris Sale was going to be the premier American League starting pitcher a year from the date, you’d have rolled your eyes, laughed and discounted that person’s credibility.
Ron Vesely/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesChris Sale has thrown 157 innings in his first season as a starter.
It simply wasn’t realistic.
A year ago on this date, Sale had made 23 relief appearances and had a 4.44 ERA. He was thought of as a solid reliever and had shown a knack for striking out hitters, but it would have been hard to fathom he was going to transform himself into a starting pitcher whose numbers would include him in the same sentence as David Price, Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver in one season.
But, of course, improbable doesn’t mean impossible.
In one of the more remarkable stories in baseball this season, the 23-year-old Sale has gone from filling a role in the White Sox’s bullpen last season to being just a few strong outings away from being the American League’s starter in the All-Star Game.
On Saturday, Sale added another chapter to his storied season. He allowed four hits, no runs and no walks and struck out seven in eight innings in the White Sox’s 10-1 win over the Houston Astros.
In his last five outings, he’s gone 5-0, allowed 17 hits, four runs, eight walks and struck out 39 hitters in 36 2/3 innings. He improved to 8-2 and lowered his ERA to 2.05 with Saturday’s performance.
Sale ranks first in the the American League in ERA, WHIP (0.92), opponents batting average (.188) and is tied for first in wins. He’s also fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (9.32) and fifth in strikeouts-to-walks ratio (3.83).
White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham may have put it best.
“He’s been pretty special,” Beckham said.
All of those numbers speak for themselves as far as Sale’s dominance as of late, but what his teammates and White Sox manager Robin Ventura have been most impressed by is how he’s achieved those statistics.
While Sale can still throw a heater or a nasty slider by someone thanks to his natural talents, he’s also learned to retire batters using change of pace and location. He’s also become more efficient and lowered his pitch counts and increased his innings. He’s pitched at least seven innings in his last four starts.
“The most impressive thing he’s doing is he’ll throw a fastball 87 mph than 95,” White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn said. “He’s not just throwing now. He’s pitching.
“For him to figure it out so quick, he’s not using max effort every single time. He’s out there pitching. It’s scary.”
Ventura remarked on the same development.
“He’s tough to hit against because he has a lot of different things he can throw,” Ventura said. “A lot of people believe he throws 98-99. That’s not what he does. He actually pitches, hits corners, creates angles and things like that. That makes him extremely tough. He’s managing that by not having to max out on any pitch.”
Sale has also been valuable to the White Sox because he’s become their stopper. Six of Sale’s eight wins have come after a White Sox’s loss.
It’s one of those stats Sale takes pride in.
“Bouncing back after a loss is always important,” Sale said. “You don’t want to go into a skid. Just coming every day and being ready to go, that’s the goal of every game I start, leave my team in the game and give them a chance to win. It just so happens I put it together after a loss.”
Ventura has come to expect that as well.
“Anytime he pitches whether you’ve won or lost, you feel like you’re going to win his game, and he continues to go out and be consistent,” Ventura said. “That’s the thing for somebody with his ability to go what he was doing last year and come in and do this. That transformation. He’s not just a throw. He is a pitcher.”