Sale in line to steer White Sox on right course
Left-hander named Opening Day starter after breakout 2012 campaign
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Chris Sale must be on a roll. Even on the rare day when he does not pitch well, the news is still good.
Sale had a rare inadequate start Saturday at Camelback Ranch. Not that long after his workday was done, White Sox manager Robin Ventura publicly named Sale as the club's Opening Day starter.
"We feel very confident with him going forward and giving him the ball for the first day," Ventura said.
There is no other way that the White Sox should feel about this young left-hander. There are no sure things in baseball, but Sale is moving in that direction.
In 2012, his first season as a starter for the White Sox, Sale compiled a 17-8 record with a 3.05 ERA. He struck out 192 in 192 innings. In one start he struck out 15 in 7 1/3 innings. He made the American League All-Star team and pitched a scoreless inning in the All-Star Game.
All of this Sale accomplished in his first professional year as a starter, at age 23. The White Sox, sufficiently impressed, declared their faith in Sale with a $32.5 million contract extension over five years. With club options and incentives, the total could increase to $60 million over seven years.
After making two fine Cactus League starts, Saturday was not the high point of Sale's Spring Training. Sale had some highly atypical control problems against an Oakland Athletics split squad. He gave up five earned runs in five-plus innings. The White Sox did much more damage to Oakland pitching and won, 11-5.
Sale attributed his problems to "erratic control" and "thinking harder instead of thinking smarter."
Like all the very good ones in this craft, Sale has a sane and sensible perspective about this work. How would he deal with Saturday's disappointing performance?
"A lot of people might look at this as a step back or a setback," Sale said. "But I don't. It's all part of the [learning] curve. It comes with the territory. You're not going to go out and be great every time. You're going to run into some rough outings. My main thing is to focus on what happened, and take the positives from this and learn from it and not have it be a setback."
It is the same thing with his goals for his work in Spring Training.
"Just being consistent, throwing quality strikes, staying ahead of guys and working with what I have, up and down, in and out," Sale said. "Working with what I have to see if we can get those results a little bit better than today."
Before the Opening Day starter was announced by Ventura, Sale had been asked about that issue. Sale said that was not a concern for him.
Being considered an "elite starter" also wasn't an issue for Sale, although the argument could be made that he already earned that status last year.
Similarly, Sale's new contract doesn't seem to have changed him in any fundamental way. Sale acknowledges that he will have fewer business concerns now with the new contract, but it doesn't change anything about his role as a pitcher on a Major League Baseball team.
"I feel like I'm freer, I don't have to worry about this or that, or what's on the agenda for next year," Sale said. "I feel comfortable now. All I've got to do is prepare for baseball and work hard, leave it all out on the field, because I don't have to worry about any of the business stuff."
The only possible knock on Sale's work in 2012 was that his performance tailed off somewhat in the second half of the season. But since his first half could fairly be called great, this should not be seen as a particularly troublesome development. This was more likely a reflection of a young pitcher, who had never thrown anywhere near this number of innings as a professional, wearing down a bit.
This, though, is a career that is, by all other reasonable expectations, headed upward. Sale can pitch with both power and command, he is committed to getting better at his craft, and he has a mature perspective on this job and what it takes to be successful at this level.
Of course he should be the Opening Day starter for the White Sox. And if this club is fortunate enough, Chris Sale will be the White Sox Opening Day starter for many seasons to come.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.