GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Chris Sale has the look of a man ready to move on after a traumatic week, from his early arrival Saturday morning to his mellow mood in the afternoon.
A day after he dissected the Adam LaRoche controversy in a fiery media session, the White Sox pitcher said he’s ready to move forward and was “jacked” to make his Cactus League debut. Sale allowed a pair of runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings with a walk and three strikeouts in his first true exhibition game of the spring. The four-time All-Star had pitched three times in simulated games or minor-league contests prior to Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Camelback Ranch.
Following a long week that included the abrupt retirement of a popular teammate, conflicting information and outrage, the White Sox have made it clear they are ready to resume their preparations for the regular season.
“From (today) forward, we’re showing up to play baseball,” Sale said. “I don’t think there’s anything else to talk about. We have a job to do and I think going forward, moving forward, that’s what we’re here for.”
This clubhouse won’t magically heal overnight.
LaRoche and his son Drake were popular figures with their teammates. Outfielder Adam Eaton went far enough to tell WSCR 670 AM in a Saturday morning interview that both were leaders last year. Manager Robin Ventura’s comments that his clubhouse isn’t as strong as it was five days ago -- though “I hope it will be,” he said -- is a clear indication the White Sox have some work ahead.
But Ventura is hopeful that the players within the clubhouse can get an already unified club pointed back in the right direction.
“It’s obviously a tough couple of days of being able to get through everything,” Ventura said. “But we’ll be fine. They’re a tough group.
“I’m glad it’s a veteran team, that they are able to handle it.”
Given his role Friday, when he heavily criticized executive vice president Kenny Williams for his role in the affair, Sale’s first step was a big one.
The quick turnaround shouldn’t come as a surprise, either.
Sale has had his share of passionate episodes over the years, from the Victor Martinez sign stealing episode of 2014 to his temporary move back to the bullpen in 2012 and others.
But it’s the same passion Sale has displayed in those instances that makes him an elite competitor on the field. The White Sox know the fire is part of what makes Sale great. And though they might discuss each instance with Sale, they’re not going to forbid him from speaking his mind, either.
“For anybody that has been around Chris, he has an opinion, he has a right to talk about it and I don’t think that’s going to stop as far as guys having opinions and speaking their minds,” Ventura said.
But sure enough, Sale got his emotions off his chest and has begun the process of moving forward.
That much was evident by his early morning presence at the clubhouse. Starting pitchers are normally allowed to sleep in and arrive later than the rest of their teammates. Yet there was Sale already dressed and smiling and bantering with teammates when the clubhouse opened to the media at 8:30 a.m.
The Florida Gulf Coast product couldn’t wait to pitch in the stadium after his three previous outings were relegated to backfields as part of a plan to hide him from upcoming competition. Sale said he feeds off the crowd, music and atmosphere.
“There’s a big difference,” Sale said. “I was jacked up for it.”
[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]
Of the 85 pitches Sale threw, only three or four were sliders. He focused on fastball command, a work in progress he said, and was pleased to get up and down six times.
Sale yielded a double, triple and a homer. But he also picked off a base runner for a second straight game, an aspect of his game he has worked on this spring.
Sale has two more starts left before he takes the mound on Opening Day in Oakland, plenty of time to get in the proper work. And while there is clearly still some necessary healing ahead inside the clubhouse, Sale is glad to have his mind back on baseball.
“My body feels great,” Sale said. “Everything is rolling, everything is clicking.”
“It’s good. That’s what we’re here for. I’m here to play games and be ready for the season and get ready for the season. I think collectively as a group we’re doing that and when Day 1 comes we’re going to be just as good as anyone.”