Pitching, offensive help on its way

The heart of the Chicago White Sox pitching staff, as well as the energy of the offense, both are on their way back as Chris Sale and Adam Eaton get set to begin their injury rehab assignments Thursday at Triple-A Charlotte.

Eaton is expected to return to the leadoff spot in the White Sox's lineup Sunday at Houston, 15 days after a bum hamstring robbed him of the speed he needed to wreak havoc on the bases and shore up the defense in the outfield.

For Sale, his return figures to take a little longer. The White Sox have not completely detailed his comeback path from a flexor muscle strain, but the targeted return date seems to be May 25 at home against the New York Yankees. Two routes to get to that date seem most likely.

While there is an outside chance that Sale could use Thursday's start to come back Tuesday at Kansas City, more realistically he will either have a second minor league rehab start Tuesday or have a simulated game at Kansas City that day to set up his return five days later.

There is no question that Jose Abreu is the player who powers the White Sox's offense. He leads the American League in home runs (15), RBIs (41), extra-base hits (27), total bases (103) and slugging percentage (.620). Eaton, though, gave the lineup the spark that has been missing in recent days.

In the four games before Wednesday's comeback victory at Oakland -- one that was completed by a three-run home run from Abreu -- the White Sox had batted a combined .177 with seven extra-base hits and just two runs per game. Over the previous eight games, they were batting just .266.

In addition, manager Robin Ventura decried the team's lack of energy in a defeat to the Arizona Diamondbacks, something he never did when Eaton was stirring the pot from the leadoff spot.

Sale, it can be argued, is even more important to the pitching staff than Eaton is to the offense. The left-hander was 3-0 with a 2.30 ERA in four starts, and in the one start he didn't get a decision, he gave up one run on one hit with 10 strikeouts in seven innings against the Boston Red Sox.

That was also the outing, though, where he threw 127 pitches and hasn't been able to take the mound since. Once he is back to the White Sox's rotation, expect Sale to be held closer to the 100-pitch mark for all of his starts in the near future.

While the White Sox are still missing key players such as Avisail Garcia and Nate Jones, getting Sale and Eaton back puts them as close to full strength as they have been for a while. It should also give a better glimpse of what kind of team the White Sox can be moving forward.

The White Sox have a 20-22 record, just one game better than it was at this time last year, during a season when the team ultimately lost 99 times. But where last year's team went into a steep decline around the last week in May, the youth and potential of this year's club figures to propel it forward.

By the end of the month, we'll start to find out how far forward Eaton and Sale can push this team.