MILWAUKEE -- Chris Sale delivered his best performance of the season Tuesday night when the White Sox needed it most.
With the bullpen fried because of poor team starting pitching and a series on the line, Sale struck out 11 batters as the White Sox edged the Milwaukee Brewers 4-2 in front of 26,935 at Miller Park.
The left-hander allowed three hits over eight innings and Alexei Ramirez made it count with a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the top of the eighth as the White Sox improved to 3-12 on the road. The victory -- the team’s fifth in eight games -- snapped a seven-game road-losing streak that dated back to April 18 in Detroit.
“It’s nice to get some normalcy and see some guys falling into place and we are playing well,” Sale said. “We are scoring runs and we are scoring runs late coming back on teams. Bullpen has been nails. So it’s on the starters basically to get it to them and keep less runs on the board than the other team.”
White Sox starting pitchers entered Tuesday with an average of 5.53 innings per start this season. While their 160 1/3 innings can partly be attributed to fewer games played, the rotation’s struggles haven’t been exaggerated. The team’s 5.16 ERA from its starters ranked 26th among 30 teams and Sale has contributed, lasting a career low three innings against the Minnesota Twins on April 30 -- his second consecutive non-quality start.
But fresh off a five-game suspension, Sale looked like a new man. Perhaps heeding the advice of pitching coach Don Cooper, who thought Sale had been trying to do too much, the left-hander reduced his velocity and painted the strike zone.
Sale hit his spots much more frequently, throwing strikes on 77 of 110 pitches. With the bullpen taxed, Sale was economical in the late innings, throwing 10 pitches in the seventh.
“It’s good for Chris in particular coming off a couple tough starts not really feeling that well to even have an opportunity to go that deep in a game against a team that’s swinging the bats pretty well right now,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “That does a lot for him and helps out the bullpen, too.”
Sale wasn’t without his mistakes as Elian Herrera crushed a 2-2 changeup in the fifth for a game-tying solo homer. But from there, Sale retired 12 of 13, including striking out the side in the sixth. He issued his only walk with two outs in the eighth inning, but struck out Jean Segura, who tripled in the first inning and scored. Sale extended his franchise-record to 19 games with double-digit strikeout performances.
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The White Sox were slow to start against Brewers pitcher Mike Fiers, who was perfect through four innings. But Ramirez and Flowers had back-to-back doubles to start the fifth inning to tie the game and Micah Johnson’s RBI single gave the White Sox a 2-1 lead.
Avisail Garcia singled in between walks of Jose Abreu and Conor Gillaspie to set up Ramirez in the go-ahead rally in the eighth. Abreu singled in an insurance run in the ninth.
David Robertson struck out two to convert his sixth save in seven tries. But aside from Robertson, a bullpen largely overused of late got a night off courtesy of Sale.
“It was big,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s been trying to find it and get a groove going. It didn't start off that well. They got the triple there and got on the board first but we clawed back and after that I thought he really settled down and had command of a lot of stuff. He was throwing strikes, getting them to swing early.
“This is just a little more vintage of what you would expect out of him.”