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Friday, May 11, 2012
Chris Sale back to rotation

By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- An MRI on the left elbow of Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale came back clean, and he will likely start against the Kansas City Royals on Saturday, general manager Ken Williams said on Friday.

Sale was one of the American League's more effective starters with a 3-1 record and 2.81 ERA this season before the team announced he would be moved into the closer role due to elbow tenderness on May 4.

Williams said Sale's move to the bullpen was a precautionary move to protect Sale after he had expressed concern about elbow pain to the team's medical staff. Williams said the decision to return Sale to the starting rotation Friday was based on the clean MRI and Sale confirming his elbow wasn't as sore as he first thought.

"We're all on the same page," Williams said. "We had a meeting. It was all decided that he was going to the bullpen. This was going to be our course of action based on the information we had, and the expression that he had to our medical staff.

"That changed. That changed to the point where we made the decision today. It resulted in a clean MRI. It resulted in a conversation where he expressed to us, 'It wasn't exactly to the threshold of pain I first articulated to the doctors.' "

Williams said they've been especially cautious with Sale this season because he's been transitioning into a starting role after pitching in relief the last two seasons. The 23-year-old Sale was a first-round draft choice in 2010 and pitched 21 games in relief that season and made 58 appearances last season.

Sale made one appearance out of the bullpen after the May 4 announcement of him as closer. He allowed one unearned run and blew a save in a 5-3 win over the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday. A source familiar with the situation told ESPNChicago.com's Bruce Levine that the MRI was scheduled before that outing.

"We're looking at it as we have to do what we have to do to manage him through the course of the season," Williams said. "We may have to do it again. I hope not. We may have to skip him because he's not hurt, he's not injured. The general soreness had to subside. What he did the other day (out of the bullpen) amounted to a side day, a little more intensity obviously. There's no reason to shut him down.

"Going into the season, as I mentioned to everyone at Sox Fest, we were going to have to monitor Chris. We were going to have to make sure to an even greater degree than we usually do, and we are very conservative in our approach with regards to the care of particularly our pitcher."

Prior to making his lone bullpen appearance on Tuesday, Sale spoke to Williams on the phone and convinced him he was healthy enough to be in the starting rotation.

"I'm proud of him," Williams said. "He stood up for himself. And the reason why this changed, when (White Sox manager) Robin Ventura said he was going to the bullpen, that was the course of the action, that was the game plan based on what he had communicated to (head athletic trainer) Herm (Schneider) and our medical staff.

"What changed was Chris Sale's phone call to me and saying, 'No, I think it's not exactly described as pain. It's more general soreness, and it's something I've had and I can get through this.' And he was adamant about it. He was adamant about it to the point to where he almost crossed the line."

Sale said he wanted to get across to Williams he could be a starting pitcher.

"Just to say, I really, really felt I could do this," Sale said. "This is something that has been a dream of mine, and I've been passionate about for very long. At the end of the day, I felt I could do this. I felt poorly, I set a goal to do this, fell drastically short. I felt like I was letting my teammates down. I felt like I was having other people to put up my slack. It was disappointing to me to not be able to fulfill what I was supposed to do."

Williams was taken aback at first by Sale's forceful statement, but he came around to it.

"I like that," Williams said. "I do like that because when you look at what turns a guy from a No. 3 guy to a No. 2 or a No. 1, there's a little bit of I can't use the word here. There's a little extra quality that can be aggravating to some, but in my mind it's an actual positive when you go out there to compete."

Williams said Sale won't be under an exact pitch count, but the team will continue to closely monitor him.

"We're in agreement with Chris that he will be as honest and truthful with the medical staff as he can possibly be, and he will be honest with himself," Williams said. "You may see him skipped from time to time if he's having any issues at all. That's not with the mindset that automatically that's a red flag. We're just trying to get him through the inaugural campaign of starting.

"We haven't been in this situation before. Generally a guy doesn't ascend to the major leagues so quickly, and then he's removed from what he's accustomed to pitching at a very high level. To a degree, we're treading on new ground here, but we're treading on cautious ground."