White Sox

Sale wants to pitch 200 innings as a starter

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Sale wants to pitch 200 innings as a starter

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Near the end of last season, Chris Sale was sitting at a lunchroom table inside the White Sox clubhouse when pitching coach Don Cooper gave him the news.

Youre going to join the starting rotation next season, Cooper said.

What was Sales initial thought?

Can I get one in before the season ended? I was trying to weasel my way into getting a start late in the year, Sale admitted in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. He entertained it for maybe a day or two, but it just didnt work out. Needless to say, Im really excited to take this on.

The 22-year-old lefty with a rail-thin body and fireballing arm is preparing for the biggest challenge of his professional career: moving from being a reliever to a starter, and even more imposing, filling the spot in the rotation left by Mark Buehrle, arguably the most dependable starter in the history of the White Sox franchise. In his first 11 full seasons in the majors, Buehrle topped the 200-inning mark every year, starting more games (362) than any other pitcher in baseball during that time.

After pitching just 104 13 innings combined the last two seasons in the majors and minors, no one expects Sale to throw 200 innings in 2012.

That is, no one but Chris Sale.

Its not a matter of whether I think I can. I want to, said Sale. Thats something that I want to push for because thats what this team needs. I dont really like to set goals or live up to expectations and stuff because I tried doing that last year and I failed miserably.

Hailed by fans and media as the second-coming after his spectacular debut at the end of the 2010 season, Sale started to believe the hype when the White Sox broke camp last spring. However, the phenom quickly came back down to Earth after getting pummeled in April and May, posting a 5.31 ERA.

The first couple months I was just struggling miserably, both physically and mentally. Going out there getting rocked for an inning, giving up runs, walking guys and stuff like that. It really kind of bothered me, Sale said. I let it all get to me. Im so passionate about pitching. This is something Ive done my entire life. This is really the one thing that Im good at. For me to go out there and not succeed like I wanted to, it was killing me.

Fortunately for Sale, he received some great advice from his teammates and coaches.

Some of the guys were just like, Hey its over. Youre not going to go back and fix that. Focus on what you need to do now. Clear your mind. Dont think about that stuff because any negative energy coming towards you, its a waste. Talking with Coop, he really kind of led me through this last year. I was very fortunate for that and very thankful for that.

Those same pitchers who came to his emotional rescue are amazed by Sales freakish ability, even his fellow starters -- great talents of their own whose jaws drop when they watch him pitch.

He definitely has the best stuff on our team, said Gavin Floyd, who held that title until Sale arrived. When he first came up, they all had the scouting report on him and I looked in the other dugout and they were like, Look at this guy. Then all of sudden you see the radar and the miles per hour, and they all started laughing. Theyre like, Man, we never expected that out of this guy.

Floyds praise for Sale is actually dwarfed by the words coming from 2007 Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy.

Chris Sale is as good as anybody that I have ever played with as far as his raw, physical talent, said Peavy, who has played with the likes of Greg Maddux, Trevor Hoffman, David Wells and Heath Bell.

When I told Sale about Peavys compliment, he was floored by it.

Thats one of the best compliments Ive ever gotten, Sale said. Jakes a great guy and I know hes worked real hard to get back healthy. Im pretty sure hes tired of talking about it. Hes a warrior out there. Hes a guy that I look up to. For him to say those things about me is pretty special.

To prepare his body for the endurance needed to be a full-time starter in the majors, Sale added swimming to his workout routine, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather who were both excellent swimmers back in the day. In fact, Sales dad was an All-American swimmer at Daytona Beach Community College and still owns records from their hometown of Lakeland, Fla.

He actually got on me the other day because he saw where I was talking about how he showed me swimming, and I called him an old man, Sale said. He goes, Next time youre at home, this old man will school you in the pool! He didnt much like that.

Is Chris a good swimmer?

I can float.

And when he finished with his strenuous aquatic workouts Chris was relieved...because he could eat.

I came home and crushed food every time, Sale said. Something about getting in a pool, you just automatically get hungry.

Taking a glance at his 170-pound beanpole body, it sure didnt look like it.

I gained about 20 pounds this offseason, and for some reason I lost it all before I came out here, joked Sale. Thats my story and Im sticking to it.

While his body might not carry that much weight, his stuff just might carry the White Sox rotation for years to come.

James Shields, Joakim Soria and some other potential midseason trade candidates for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields, Joakim Soria and some other potential midseason trade candidates for the White Sox

Another day, another quality start for James Shields.

The White Sox once more didn’t win a Shields start. Despite an increasingly good-looking season stat line, Shields can’t seem to rack up many wins, with just two to his name on the season. But of course, wins are not exactly the most important barometer in this rebuilding campaign.

Speaking of the rebuild, the White Sox are getting closer to the trade deadline, it’s about a month and a half away. And Shields’ continued success could have Rick Hahn’s phone ringing as July 31 creeps closer. After six innings and three runs in Sunday’s loss to the visiting Detroit Tigers, Shields has seven quality starts in his last 10 outings,

After last season’s struggles that ended in a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs surrendered, getting anything for Shields might’ve seemed a bit of a fantasy. But Shields has delivered, especially since the end of a rocky April.

“It’s very important to try to eat as many innings as you possibly can,” Shields said of his consistent efforts of late. “Early on in the season, we were ruining our bullpen by not going deep into games. My main focus is to go as deep as I possibly can. … Consistency’s the name of the game.”

Does it make him one of the most attractive names on the market? No, probably not. Is it going to fetch a highly ranked prospect? No, probably not. But it might fetch something, and in a season where guys believed to be afterthoughts like Dylan Covey and Daniel Palka are working their way into the conversation about the White Sox future, who wouldn’t want something added to this rebuilding effort?

And Shields isn’t the only White Sox player who could bring something back.

The bullpen was stocked with potential sign-and-flip guys over the offseason, and a few of those veteran arms have had good runs that could earn them a similar fate to the bulk of last year’s relief corps. Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Dan Jennings and Tyler Clippard were all dealt away last summer. Could Hahn employ a similar strategy this season?

The bullpen hasn’t been quite as good as it was last year, which made all of those players attractive additions for contending teams around the league. But veterans like Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Bruce Rondon, Xavier Cedeno — guys who hoped to rediscover some old magic — could still draw interest.

Soria owns a 3.12 ERA. Avilan’s is at 3.10. Cedeno hasn’t given up a run in his six relief appearances. Rondon has shown blow-em-away stuff at times. It’s been a nice recovery for some of these sign-and-flip veterans.

“They’ve had an opportunity to get their chances to work on different things and become really effective performers,” manager Rick Renteria said of some of his veteran relievers prior to Sunday’s game. “I think Joakim has risen his level of game back what he was pre last couple years, I think he’s reinvented himself a little bit. He has an up-down breaking ball now, he’s continuing to attack the strike zone, he’s throwing 93 miles an hour with his fastball, he’s commanding the zone. He’s doing everything he can to be as good a closer as he was in the past. His history and his experience also allow him some confidence to be put in situations to close out ballgames.”

Soria could perhaps draw the most interest because closers are often in demand in July. But last year’s trade-a-thon showed that teams are willing to trade prospects away for relief help of any kind. Many of the return pieces in those deals might not get rebuild-loving prospect followers thrilled. Casey Gillaspie and Ryan Cordell haven’t exactly put their names at the forefront of the discussion about 2020 and beyond. But remember that Blake Rutherford came over in the deal that sent Robertson and Kahnle out of town (Todd Frazier went to the New York Yankees in that trade, too). So an acquisition that could improve the rebuild can most definitely happen, even with middle relievers.

There’s no guarantee that any of these guys, be it Shields in the rotation or any of the arms out in the bullpen, will get traded or even draw significant interest. But for a team in the White Sox position, you’d have to assume they’d be open to making a deal and getting something to add to this rebuilding process.

Eloy Jimenez reminds Frank Thomas of Vlad Guerrero, and more rebuild thoughts from the Big Hurt

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AP

Eloy Jimenez reminds Frank Thomas of Vlad Guerrero, and more rebuild thoughts from the Big Hurt

Here’s a comp that’ll get White Sox fans really excited. It’s a Hall of Famer saying that the organization’s top-ranked prospect reminds him of another Hall of Famer.

“The kid Eloy (Jimenez), I’ve really watched him a lot. He’s a tremendous (player),” Frank Thomas said. “He reminds me of a young Vlad (Guerrero) that can cover the whole zone and use the whole field. I’m interested in seeing how he progresses.”

Eloy a young Vladdy, eh?

Don’t tell actual young Vladdy that — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is ranked one spot ahead of Jimenez on MLB Pipeline’s list of the best prospects in baseball — but that’s one heck of a comp for a player that White Sox fans are already immeasurably excited about.

Thomas was back on the South Side on Sunday to join Hawk Harrelson in the broadcast booth for the latter’s sendoff season. He spoke a lot about what Harrelson meant to him and the White Sox, but he also answered questions about the team’s ongoing rebuild. Thomas has kept a close eye both in his roles as an analyst for FOX and someone who will always be invested in this team.

“It’s Chicago, and we’re used to winning,” Thomas said when he was asked if the White Sox needed to undergo such a process. “You normally get away with this in a smaller market, but you’ve got to understand they’ve taken their time with it. They wasted a lot of money for a five-year period trying to continue to be successful the way we were in the past and it wasn’t working.

“The game has changed. The game has totally changed. It’s a different ballgame now. It’s all about the youth. … The hardest part they’re going to have, though, is figuring out who’s going to be here and who’s not going to be here because over the next couple years they’ve got so many young talented players in Double-A and Triple-A that someone could actually force some of these guys out. It’s going to be a hard decision what they’re going to have to do.”

That’s the good problem Rick Hahn and his front office would like to have.

While fan buy-in to the rebuilding effort has been tremendous, there are some who will continue to question the willing suffering through losing seasons at the major league level while the contending team of the future develops in the minor leagues. But if you look at the teams that have won and played in the World Series in recent seasons — and even seasons long past — the process almost seems mandatory if you want to reach that level.

“It is,” Thomas said. “I’ve watched it firsthand. I first saw it with Cleveland when I was playing. Cleveland did it. Then you saw the Royals do it. You saw Houston do it, and they’re tearing it up with that youth. There’s been some other teams that have had a lot of success with it, too. I think Billy Beane has been great with it in Oakland for many, many years. They just haven’t had the luxury of keeping it together and going for the World Series, but he continues to create young superstars and basically trading them off for whatever the organization needs.”

Thomas, the greatest hitter in White Sox history, was also asked about the greatest hitter on the White Sox right now, Jose Abreu. Abreu’s future is the topic of much conversation surrounding this team, what with his contract running out at the end of the 2019 season, just when the White Sox hope to be fielding a perennial contender.

Abreu has been remarkably consistent — and one of just three players ever to hit at least 25 homers and drive in at least 100 runs in each of his first four seasons — but Thomas thinks there’s a side of Abreu we still have yet to see.

“I just don’t think we’ve seen the best of him,” Thomas said. “That’s because it’s a youth movement and the protection’s been up and down for him in that lineup. I’ve seen him be inconsistent at times, but I think he’s a much better player than that. But I understand when you’re not winning every day and it’s not as motivating because losing’s tough on everybody. But the guy’s an incredible player, an incredible hitter.

“I think the next couple of years we’ll see the best of him if he’s still here. I think this guy has a chance to be one of the great ones.”

With one last question about the modern-day White Sox, Thomas was asked about manager Rick Renteria, who he raved about. But with Renteria’s recent history with the Cubs, when he was replaced with Joe Maddon right before the North Siders started their phase of contention, he has yet to be the manager of a team with expectations. The plan is that he soon will be, and Thomas is interested to see what happens when that becomes the case.

“I think he’s done a hell of a job. I really like Ricky a lot,” Thomas said. “But who knows what they’re going to do in the future. When this team becomes what they think it’s going to be, either you get it done or you don’t. That’s just what it’s going to be. That’s the way Jerry’s handled it for many, many years.

“We’ve had some decisions that weren’t all happiness at times, but it’s about winning once they get their team here. I hope it’s Ricky because he’s done a hell of a rebuild job with the Cubs, he did a hell of a rebuild job here. It’s just time for him to get a good team out on the field and see what he really can do. I’m hoping he gets a chance of having a full team to put out there for 162 games and see what he can do.”