ARLINGTON, Texas — Holding a six-run lead after two innings, Chris Sale was able to comfortably dissect a Rangers lineup that plated 15 runs against the White Sox the night before.
Sale’s seven-inning, 13-strikeout masterpiece propelled the White Sox to a 9-2 win over Texas Wednesday night at Globe Life Park. The 26-year-old left-hander didn’t allow a run and scattered three hits and two walks over his start, and retired the final 14 batters he faced — nine of them on strikeouts.
His ERA dropped to 3.27 with his Wednesday outing, and over his last four starts he has a 53-to-five strikeout-to-walk ratio. For the first time in his career, he's struck out double-digit batters in three consecutive starts. This is the Chris Sale the White Sox had penciled in atop their rotation heading into spring training, not the guy who gave up 14 runs over two starts and 8 1/3 innings in late April and early May.
Manager Robin Ventura said Sale’s spate of ineffectiveness could’ve been the product of him missing most of spring training with a fractured ankle, though Sale said he wasn’t sure if that was the case.
“I couldn’t tell you, I try to go out there and pitch (well) every time,” Sale said. “Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. I don’t know if there’s any rhyme or reason but you get in grooves and try to ride it.”
It’s likely no coincidence, though, that Sale’s recent surge has come as he’s throwing more sliders.
In his first five starts, Sale only threw his slider about one in every 10 pitches, according to TexasLeaguers.net. And only one in every 10 of those sliders generated a swing and a miss, while 30 percent of them were put in play.
Over his last five starts, including Wednesday night in Texas, Sale has thrown sliders on about 18 percent of his pitches. And 22 percent of those sliders have generated a whiff — over double the rate he had in his first five starts.
His fastball and changeup have been improved in terms of swings and misses, too, but the slider has seen the most noticeable improvement.
“I worked on it in bullpens, flat ground and stuff like that,” Sale said. “It wasn’t just really that good of a pitch early on, so just try to mix it in as much as I can and still not trying to overthrow it.”
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Rangers megaprospect Joey Gallo bore the brunt of Sale’s improved slider, flailing at it for two strikeouts before going down swinging on a changeup in his third at-bat. Sale temporarily halted the Gallo hype machine, which was turned on Tuesday with a home run and four RBIs in his debut and re-started when the 21-year-old ripped a 410-foot home run off Zach Duke in the ninth inning Wednesday.
Sale and catcher Tyler Flowers don’t want to over-use the slider, but facing a Rangers lineup where most of the power hit left-handed — Shin-Soo Choo, Mitch Moreland and Gallo — it was a reliable out-pitch.
And it helped Sale take another step toward putting those early-season mishaps behind him.
“We all know it’s there,” Ventura said, “and I think he’s getting that feeling back.”