White Sox

Business as usual for dominant Sale

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Business as usual for dominant Sale

As White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper puts it, the White Sox are working on transitioning Chris Sale from being one of the "baddest-ass lefty relievers in the league" to fulfilling his potential as a top-of-the-line starter.

Boston tried the same transition with Daniel Bard, who was sent back to Triple-A earlier this month. Neftali Feliz appears bound to return to the Rangers' bullpen when he returns from the disabled list. And even Jeff Samardzija was lit up by Minnesota for eight runs on Saturday. Making the transition from the bullpen to rotation isn't easy.

But Sale keeps making it look just that: easy. He threw eight shutout innings on Saturday, striking out seven while allowing no walks and four hits, all singles. In the process, he lowered his league-leading ERA to 2.05.

"We were just talking and someone asked if you need more from him," relayed Cooper before the game. "No, we dont need more. Close to what he's doing would be par for the course today."

If that's par for the course, an in-his-prime Tiger Woods would struggle to break even. In Sale's previous two starts, he nearly set a franchise record for strikeouts and followed that up with his first complete game.

"He's tough to hit against because he has a lot of different things he can throw," manager Robin Ventura explained. "I think a lot of people believe he just goes out and throws 98, 99, that's not what he does. He actually pitches, hits corners, creates angles and things like that that make him extremely tough. He's managing that by not having to max out on every pitch."

That pitching ability isn't found in everyone who can throw a high 90's fastball. But it's something that hasn't gone unnoticed by Sale's teammates.

"Ill tell you the most impressive thing that hes doing is hell throw a fastball 87 mph and then 95 mph," Adam Dunn said. "Hes not just throwing now. Hes pitching. For him to figure it out so quick, hes not max effort every single time. Hes pitching. Its scary."

Sale wasn't allowed to finish off what would've been his first shutout, though. He threw 101 pitches over eight innings, and with a comfortable lead over the Astros that ballooned to 10 on Dunn's grand slam, Sale was given the ninth inning off.

"I think today he probably could have finished," Ventura said. "But you're looking at the day, a warm day. He's got an extra day of rest so instead of letting him go out there and do 120, he's right around 100. So we just let Zach Stewart finish that up for him."

Sox fans, coaches and players alike held their breath for a few seconds when Sale awkwardly tumbled to the ground after being hit in his left heel with a comebacker off the bat of Jed Lowrie in the sixth. Luckily for the Sox, Sale popped right back up with a giant grin on his face as Ventura and head trainer Herm Schneider raced out to the mound.

"It's not like he has a lot of meat to take that stuff so I'm glad it was in the shoe," deadpanned Ventura.

"Yeah, I continue to keep looking unathletic out there as a fielder and trying to dodge balls," joked Sale.

But keeping Sale healthy isn't a laughing matter for the White Sox. With his eight innings of work, Sale has now thrown more innings this season than he did as a reliever in 2011. He had to argue his way out of being moved to the bullpen when he experienced a minor elbow issue in May, and it's a good thing he did. The Sox will, however, continue to closely monitor his every move and do whatever they can to keep him on the mound.

"He's getting extra days now," Cooper said. "Believe me, everything we can do to keep him healthy and strong and keep him going out there and doing what he's doing, it's getting taken care of."

An interesting debate would be how the White Sox would handle an All-Star berth for Sale. With the Sox looking to give Sale as much rest as possible, seeing him throw an inning -- or two, if he gets the start, which he very well might -- could be a little nerve-wracking. But if it fits into his normal throwing schedule, an inning or two certainly couldn't hurt.

"That would be awesome," Sale said of being named to the All-Star team. "You always think about those things as a kid, stuff like that. But at the same time, we got a ways to go before any of that stuff even starts happening. If I start looking toward that, I'll lose focus of what I got in front of me, and what I got in front of me is L.A. right now. I'm going to start preparing for that one tomorrow."

There's still a month between now and the best players in baseball descending on Kansas City. And while Sale has kept his stranglehold on leading the AL in ERA, that's not anything he's really concerned with.

"I'm not one to really look at my stats or anything like that," Sale said. "It really doesn't do anything for you if you have a five or a one ERA, you still gotta go out there and pitch and get outs. I keep saying it over and over, but that's my main focus, going out and making pitches and giving this team a chance to win."

The Sox have won eight of Sale's 11 starts, and six of his eight wins this season have come after a Sox loss. While Cooper would rather Sale be a pitcher that continues winning streaks, he's proven to be someone who can stop losing skids.

"He has a lot of that ability," Ventura said of Sale being the team's stopper. "Any time he pitches, whether you won or lost the day before, you feel like you're going to win his game."

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sunday marked the first surprise of White Sox spring training, courtesy of first baseman Jose Abreu.

“This year, I’m going to try to steal more bases,” Abreu said through a translator.

This might have sounded like a joke, but Abreu was completely serious.

On paper, he’s not exactly Rickey Henderson. In 614 career games, Abreu has only six stolen bases. However, the slimmed-down first baseman does have some sneaky speed. His six triples last season ranked third in the American League. So there are some wheels to work with.

“I like the challenge. I think that’s a good challenge for me. I’m ready for it,” Abreu said.

How many steals are we talking about? A reporter asked sarcastically if a 30-30 season is in the offing? Abreu didn’t exactly shoot down the possibility.

“Who knows? When you fill your mind with positive things, maybe you can accomplish them,” Abreu said. “The mind of a human being works in a lot of different ways. If you fill your mind with good things, good things are going to happen.”

The morning began with Abreu walking to the hitting cages with his Cuban compadres Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, who the White Sox signed last summer. He held his first workout on Sunday. At the White Sox hitters camp last month, Moncada took Robert under his wing, showing him the ropes, even telling Ricky Renteria, “I got him.”

But Sunday, Abreu was in charge, holding court with the three of them in the cage. Abreu watched closely as Robert hit off a tee, giving him pointers about his swing.

“I just like to help people,” Abreu said. “When I started to play at 16 in Cuba, I had a lot people who hounded me to get better. At the same point, I want to give back things that I’ve learned and pass that along to other people. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not expecting anything else. I’m just glad to help them and get them better.”

What kind of advice has he passed along to Robert?

“Since I came to this country, I learned quickly three keys to be a success: Be disciplined, work hard and always be on time. If you apply those three keys, I think you’re going to be good. Those are the three keys I’m trying to teach the new kids, the young guys,” Abreu said.

Abreu lost about 10 pounds during the offseason. He said he hopes to learn more English in 2018. He also arrived at spring training sporting a scruffy beard which he grew while he was in Cuba so he “could be incongnito.”

Abreu likes his new look. Moncada thinks he should shave it off.

“If the organization doesn’t say anything, I’m just going to keep it,” Abreu said.

Well, so much for that.

Moments after Abreu spoke with the media, Renteria told reporters that Abreu will have to “clean it up a bit.”

The two will find a compromise. Come to think of it, maybe Abreu and the White Sox should do the same about a contract extension in the near future.

Yes, he’ll be 33 when his contract expires in two years, but there have been no signs of a decline with his performance. Instead, Abreu is only getting better both offensively and defensively.

Heck, now he wants to steal bases, too.

After Renteria, Abreu is the leader of this team. He commands ultimate respect inside the clubhouse. He’s become another coach to Moncada, Robert and others. He’s a huge brick in the present and too big of an influence and cornerstone to not have around in the future.

“I hope to play my entire career in the majors with the White Sox,” Abreu said Sunday. “But I can’t control that.”

At some point, a decision will have to be made whether to keep Abreu or trade him. In the meantime, ask yourself this question: What will bring more value to the White Sox, getting a high-end prospect or two in return not knowing if they’ll ever succeed in the majors? Or keeping your best player, the heart and soul of your team, allowing him to show your future stars the way while they’re developing in the major leagues?

Seems like an easy decision to me.