ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Chris Sale continues to produce eye-opening strikeout totals.
The three-time All-Star struck out 12 more batters in a 2-1 White Sox loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday afternoon and has whiffed 59 over his last five starts.
Sunday was the fourth straight start in which Sale has struck out at least a dozen batters, which moves him into select company -- Sale and Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez are the only pitchers since 1914 to have at least 12 strikeouts in four straight starts.
“You definitely know he’s capable of it,” catcher Tyler Flowers said.
Working with a full arsenal of pitches for close to a month now, Sale has pitched as if he’s on All-Madden level facing hitters who have never before played the classic football video game.
In his last seven starts, Sale has 79 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings. He is also only one of nine pitchers to ever post double-digit strikeouts in five straight starts.
“(Interim bench coach) Vance Law said I don’t know how a scout would go back and evaluate this,” White Sox bench coach/interim manager Mark Parent said. “And I said, all you would want to do is say, ‘I’d take him on my team.’ That’s all you’d say. This guy is really good.”
Other than feeling strong, Sale hasn’t looked into why he has been so dominant.
The left-hander had a two-start hiccup in early May, likely as hitters adjusted to his stuff after a month-long absence in spring training because of a foot injury. But since then, Sale has been fantastic as his slider and changeup have caught up with a dominant fastball.
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On Sunday, Sale threw 39 changeups and 16 sliders and got 26 swings and misses among his 125 pitches. Eleven of his 12 strikeouts were swinging as are 84 of his 105 this season, which is second only to Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer (96).
“I feel like I had pretty good feel for all three of my pitches, being able to throw them for strikes,” Sale said. “(Sunday) I was off a little bit and I was able to corral that in. I wish I could tell you (why). I just go out there and try to pitch.”
Flowers has a pretty good idea why. He said it all comes down to getting ahead of hitters and then utilizing a boatload of options.
“Really it probably goes back to command,” Flowers said. “When we get ahead of guys we’ve got multiple options, fastballs in different locations, changeups, sliders. He’s definitely an uncomfortable at-bat for anybody so it brings a lot of elements in.”