White Sox

White Sox poor season hasn't slowed down Chris Sale

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White Sox poor season hasn't slowed down Chris Sale

The 2015 White Sox roster is loaded with question marks at several positions and key players have underperformed at others. The club is headed in the wrong direction again, on pace for 92 losses.

Chris Sale falls into none of those categories.

While little has gone according to plan for the 2015 White Sox, who reside in last place in the American League Central despite a massive offseason overhaul, Sale has been everything the club had hoped he’d be and more.

[MORE: Crain and Jones continue to make progress in injury rehab]

On pace for his fourth straight All-Star appearance and perhaps his first start in the Midsummer Classic, Sale will attempt Tuesday to tie Pedro Martinez’s major league record for most consecutive starts (eight) with at least 10 strikeouts.

“It’s crazy,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “The people he’s getting compared to are royalty in our game and the kind of stuff nobody ever thinks is going to get matched again. He’s able to go out and have that stretch that he’s having, it’s impressive.”

It’s even more impressive given all that has occurred around him this season. Despite playing in front of a defense that has produced a majors-low minus-54 Defensive Runs Saved and an offense that has scored 3.47 runs per game and runs into too many outs, Sale has largely been unaffected.

He heads into Tuesday’s opener of a two-game series at the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4 with a 3.02 ERA and an average of 12.18 strikeouts per nine innings.

Sale -- whose record-tying streak of consecutive starts with at least 12 strikeouts ended at five Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins -- has struck out 85 batters over his last seven starts.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Currently tied with Martinez, Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan, Sale would become only the second pitcher to ever post 10 strikeouts in eight straight starts if he accomplishes the feat Tuesday. Martinez had streaks of seven and eight consecutive starts with at least 10 strikeouts in 1999 for the Boston Red Sox.

As pitching coach Don Cooper notes, Sale’s dominance is nothing new. He has averaged at least nine strikeouts per nine innings in each of his four as a starting pitcher. But Sale’s strikeouts increased to 10.8 per nine in 2014 when he was 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA for an 89-loss team and he’s improved his whiff rate again this season. Cooper believes it’s how Sale has handled himself on the mound in spite of things out of his control that has benefitted him most.

“A big thing we’re seeing over the years is more maturity, more keeping his emotions and head in check,” Cooper said. “When the control tower is working he is really good because of the efficiency, his focus his commitment. When he gets flustered or angry -- sometimes somebody gets a hit and he gets pissed -- he wants to go to a level that I think loses that efficiency. He’s able now to control his emotions and control his starts and commitment to each pitch.”

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

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AP

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada took live batting practice for the first time this spring, off in the distance was a lanky White Sox prospect standing in the outfield grass.

But Alec Hansen was doing more than shagging flies. He was watching both hitters very closely.

“I was looking to see how much pop they had,” Hansen said of Abreu and Moncada. “I kind of look at that to see the difference in power between minor league ball and the major leagues. It’s nice to see it’s not a huge difference. That makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

At 6-foot-8 — actually 6-foot-8-and-a-half, according to his spring training physical — Hansen is a big man with big plans for his baseball career. He might be quiet on the outside, but he has booming expectations for himself on the inside.

“I want to be the best,” Hansen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

The best? The very best?

That’s what Hansen aspires to become, though later in our conversation, he did dial back a notch, settling for becoming “one of the best.”

Either is fine with manager Ricky Renteria, who is overseeing these uber-confident White Sox prospects and accepts their lofty expectations.

“I think their mindset is where it’s supposed to be,” Renteria said. “None of these kids are concerned or consumed with the possibility of failure. Much more they’re consuming themselves with the understanding that they might hit some stumbling blocks, but they’re going to have a way to avoid overcoming them and push forward and be the best that they can be.”

In his first full season in the White Sox organization, Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts. He’s proud of that accomplishment but admitted something: He’s not that impressed because he didn’t do it where it really matters — in the major leagues.

When you watch Hansen pitch, it’s easy to see that the talent is there. His coaches and teammates rave about his ability. With his enormous size and power arm, he is loaded with strengths.  

Though there is one weakness that Hansen acknowledges he needs to work on.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to think too much and worry. I think worrying is the worst thing that I do just because I want to be perfect,” Hansen said. “I think everyone wants to be perfect, some more than others, and I worry about things getting in the way of achieving perfection.”

To Hansen, that doesn’t mean throwing a perfect game. He actually takes it one step further.

He wants to strikeout every single hitter he faces.

“I love striking people out,” Hansen said. “Not having to rely on anyone else and just getting the job done myself and knowing that the hitter can’t get a hit off me. That’s a great feeling. That they can’t put it in play. Like a line drive out. That’s terrible.”

At some point, Hansen will have to lower these impossible expectations for himself. This is an imperfect game. There’s no place for nine-inning, 27-strikeout performances. Players end up in the Hall of Fame because they learn how to succeed with failure.

In the meantime, Hansen is here in big league camp watching and learning anything and everything.

“I’m a good observer. I listen. I don’t really talk too much. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I like to sit back and observe and see how these guys go about their business. Just trying to be at their level, hopefully one day surpass them.”

Surpass?

“It’s kind of hard to surpass some of these guys. I mean, they’re at the tip-top, like the pinnacle of the sport,” Hansen said. “I guess you could say, to get on that level and then be one of the best in the league.”

He might be on his way.

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.