White Sox

Could Chris Sale strike out 300 batters this season?

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Could Chris Sale strike out 300 batters this season?

SEATTLE -- Chris Sale likely has eight starts left this season, which gives him a viable shot at 300 strikeouts.

Having struck out 214 batters two seasons ago, Jeff Samardzija has an understanding of just how incredible a feat it would be for Sale to accomplish.

In his bid to become the first pitcher to achieve 300 strikeouts since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2002, Sale has 222 strikeouts over 164 1/3 innings in his first 24 starts. Were he to maintain his current averages, Sale should pitch 54 2/3 innings the rest of the way with 74 strikeouts, which would put him at 296.

“It’s really hard,” Samardzija said. “It’s definitely a mindset. The coolest thing about Sale is he’s clearly been a strikeout pitcher his whole life because it’s not new for him.

“I was excited and it was a lot of work (to get 214). I was really exhausted after that year.

“I wasn’t used to being the strikeout guy, but for Sale its almost just like another day’s work for him.”

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White Sox manager Robin Ventura has roughly seen 848 of Sale’s 959 strikeouts in person. He has seen it more than most and knows the capabilities of his lanky left-hander. Even he’s captivated by Sale, who has struck out 29 batters in his past two starts and has 12 games this season with at least 10 strikeouts.

“When you measure it against what you’re seeing around the league and what you’re seeing with history, it is impressive,” Ventura said. “You’re starting to look at the efficiency of what he does. He’s had some games where five, six innings of it was him striking people out. That’s the part that becomes impressive. Once you get up over 11, 12 strikeouts, you’re really eliminating a lot of work for the defense. It puts a lot more work on you, there’s a lot more work to striking people out than just let him hit it and let the defense go.”

Samardzija also is stunned by the efficiency and Sale’s ability to routinely throw between 110-120 pitches. Sale has averaged 12.16 strikeouts per nine innings this season, the highest total since Johnson’s 13.41 in 2001. Were Sale doing this 40 years ago, Samardzija believes he’d easily eclipse 300 strikeouts because his innings total would be more like 250-260.

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When Johnson struck out 334 batters in 2002, he did it in 260 innings while Schilling finished with 316 in 259 1/3 innings. Sale could still achieve the feat even though he’s on pace for about 219 innings. If he maintained his current average for Johnson’s 260 innings in 2002, Sale would strikeout 351 batters.

“To strikeout 300 without throwing that many innings is really, really impressive,” Samardzija said. “If Sale had 300 innings and struck out 300, that’d be one thing. But he’s going to probably do it in 220 innings, which if you the math is really more impressive. It’s unbelievable. It’ll be something down the road we’ll look back on and say ‘Geez, that was unbelievable.’ ”

As outrageous as his run has been, Ventura thinks Sale could accomplish the feat. Ventura knows it would take a lot of work but Sale is up to the task.

“Of course he can,” Ventura said. “I don’t think there’s any reason why he can’t. We’ll have to wait and see.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

The White Sox top pitching prospect sits down with Chuck Garfien for a revealing interview at spring training. Kopech says he almost quit the game after he got into a fight with a Red Sox minor league teammate in 2016. He goes in-depth about his desire to be great, why meditating makes him a better pitcher, his failed PED test in 2015, comparisons to Justin Verlander, possibly becoming the future ace of the White Sox and much more.

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A failed PED test. A 50-game suspension. A fight with a former teammate. A broken pitching hand.

It all blew up like that for Michael Kopech in one calendar year.

And it was probably the best thing that ever happened to him.

“There have been points where I wanted to quit baseball. There have been points where I wanted to stop trying,” Kopech said Thursday in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

This was the breaking point that almost ended Kopech’s career before it truly began but would eventually change his life for the better once the storms passed.

“Everything felt like it was on me at once, and it was tough because I had just gotten through the suspension, worked my butt off all offseason, came back to spring training in the best shape I had ever been in, and then broke my hand the first day of spring,” Kopech explained. “More than anything, I was frustrated and knew I wasn’t making anything better for myself and I was ready to get out of there.”

How long was he in this mode of possibly quitting baseball?

“Probably a couple weeks.”

The PED suspension in 2015 was for the stimulant Oxilofrine, which has been found in supplements which Kopech says he didn’t knowingly take.

“We do have certifications that we’re supposed to follow. We’re supposed to make sure that everything we take or put in our bodies is certified, and I probably wasn’t as safe as I should have been on that. I do take responsibility on that, and I regret it. But it’s part of the past and I did learn from it, so I can’t be too upset about it now and dwell on the past.”

The fight wasn’t only with Kopech’s teammate. It was also with his roommate.  

“It was a good friend of mine I was trying to help out. Things went south and he took a couple swings at me and I took one swing back. It just happened to not be a very good punch,” Kopech said. “I’ve accepted that I messed up. He accepted it as well. I’m open about it because it’s in the past and I’ve learned from it. But I’m not too proud to say I made a mistake. Fortunately, he’s still with the Red Sox and doing well over there. I think it didn’t alter our careers negatively, but maybe we both matured quite a bit from it and somehow, someway altered it positively. He’s still one of my good buddies.”

To say that Kopech’s dream is to make the major leagues would be limiting. He has a strong desire not only to be great but to be one of the all-time greats.

You can’t always pinpoint where a person’s ambition comes from. Kopech thinks it was from his torturous year as a nomad, out of baseball with a broken hand and a broken soul.

“Everybody talks about that itch to get back to spring training. When you have that for 12 straight months, it just grows and grows and grows,” Kopech said. “There’s going to be adversity coming your way in baseball. Learning from the adversity off the field is one of the tougher things I’ve ever had to do. Having all that come at once forced me to learn from it. I probably was a little stubborn and hard-headed at first, but taking a year off baseball, all you have time to do is think, anyway. I put myself in much better positions, became a lot more mindful about the game, and I feel like it has a lot to do with who I am today.”

Partly what changed him, and frankly might have saved him, was learning how to meditate. It’s a practice he learned from Red Sox mental performance coach Justin Su’a soon after the fateful fight with his teammate.

“It put me in a mental state that I never experienced. It’s almost like a flow state when I pitch but a lot calmer, so I got hooked on meditating and it took me away from the negativity of all that,” Kopech said. “I realized that my mind is my most powerful tool. I got addicted to this feeling that came from me being a more mindful athlete rather than just a powerful athlete or an athlete that throws 100 miles per hour. It took me away from being this guy that’s one dimensional to the outside public and made me have a lot more self value than Michael Kopech the baseball player.”

Kopech meditates before every start. Where exactly?

“For the most part, I’ll go find a closet or empty room somewhere in the stadium where I can zone out,” he said. “But even if it’s close to the clubhouse and I hear a little chatter that’s fine because the type of meditating I do focuses a little on background noise and helps my mind get to the place where I need it to get.”

It’s become such a powerful tool, he believes it gives him a distinct advantage over the hitter when he's on the mound.

“It’s tapping into this part of your mind that most people can’t dive into, and what’s funny is pitching is like cheating to me. When I pitch, the first batter I see with the stadium full of people, I’m in that state. Most people have to work their whole lives to feel that type of dopamine rush. Whatever it is actually, I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know the feeling and I get it instantly when I take the mound. For me, that’s why I love the game because it makes me feel alive.”

It's a purpose and passion that has been reborn. Living proof that Kopech's mind is maybe all that matters.