The skinny on Chris Sale

Flame-throwing lefty could be a revelation for White Sox this season

April 12, 2012|By Chris Sosa | RedEye

Since winning the 2005 World Series, the White Sox have been burned often.

While they've been fearless in making high-profile moves, many of them—Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones, Adam Dunn,Ken Griffey Jr.—haven't panned out.

So after a disappointing 2011, the Sox cooled off this winter. In other words, they embraced rebuilding.

First they traded combustible manager Ozzie Guillen to Miami. Next they allowed Mark Buehrle, their top pitcher and one of their most popular players, to exit via free agency.

Now, as the Sox play their home opener Friday against Detroit, they're hoping any pressure has been deflected enough for them to thrive in 2012.

As the organization turns the page, fans searching for a spark likely won't get it from Guillen's successor, the calm-as-a-frozen-lake Robin Ventura.

Left-hander Chris Sale, on the other hand, has a chance to be hotter than free Lollapalooza tickets thanks to his arsenal of pitches.

Eye-opening fastball? Check. Nasty slider? Yep. Wicked changeup? Getting there. He struck out an impressive 79 hitters in 71 innings last season, when he was used exclusively out of the bullpen. Buehrle's departure left a spot open in the starting rotation, and Sale was asked to step in.

Although he isn't considered the team's No. 1 starter, the Sox have high hopes for Sale, who at 23 is the youngest player on their roster.

"Will Sale be as consistent as Buehrle has been over the years? We don't know," general manager Kenny Williams told the Tribune in Spring Training. "We are projecting he can be. He has all the equipment to do that."

The 6-foot-6 Sale is accustomed to starting. He did it throughout his college career at Florida Gulf Coast University, and his adjustment back to that role has been smooth.

"Honestly I come in each day and I learn something different every day," he said. "It's a little different style of pitching. … But I'm loving it so far and everything's, knock on wood, been going as planned. I feel like I'm built up enough and got my endurance up there and getting stronger."

Strength has not been an issue for Sale. It was common last year for his fastball to hit 98 mph. But now that he'll be asked to throw a lot more innings, he'll have to be selective when flashing that signature velocity.

"Especially when I was younger, throwing hard meant you were the best or something, and that's really not the case anymore for me," he said. "Throwing hard is great, but at the same time if you're throwing it hard but it's right there, anybody can hit 96, 97, 98 mph. If you take a couple ticks off and you're putting it in the right places, that's more effective than the hardest fastball you can ever throw."

Sale was extremely effective in his first major-league start Monday in Cleveland, picking up the win while allowing just one run in 6 2/3 innings and striking out five. He'll next take the mound Sunday as the Sox host Detroit in the finale of a three-game series.

"That's a view of the future," 2007 Cy Young winner Jake Peavy said of his teammate after Monday's victory.

The near future, as far as the Sox are concerned, could be rough. Sports Illustrated recently predicted they would lose 95 games. Obviously fans hope the South Siders exceed those miserable expectations under Ventura, a former Sox third baseman.

"Honestly, I loved Ozzie. I thought he was a great manager," Sale said. "But this Spring Training has been awesome with the new coaches and Robin in his first year of managing. I think he's great for the job. He's just very laid back. He brings energy, and having new faces around kind of brings excitement in and of itself. I think we're feeding off that and building off that, and I think he's the right guy in the right position."

Ventura is the anti-Guillen in terms of his on-camera demeanor, a trait Sale strives to emulate when opposing fans take aim.

"I get on the mound and I hear everything about gaining weight, being too skinny," said Sale, who's listed at 180 pounds. "Some fans will be like, 'Oh, good luck today, we'll see you down in the minor leagues tomorrow.'

"You hear some good ones, and it is kinda funny sometimes. There are times when they might get under your skin or something like that, but honestly you try to just zone 'em out and really focus on what you're doing."

When he does that—as he did Monday—he can be too hot to handle.

chsosa@tribune.com | @sayitissosa

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