After hectic offseason, Sale ready to lead Sox staff
Lefty ace in preparation mode, wants to see club play with more of an edge
CHICAGO -- The closest thing to a certainty concerning the 2014 White Sox is that Chris Sale will be throwing the team's first official pitch March 31 on Opening Day against the Twins at U.S. Cellular Field.
It's an honor Sale deserves as the No. 1 man on the staff, but also as one of the game's top starting pitchers in just his third full season in the rotation. But during a phone interview with MLB.com on Tuesday night, the always entertaining and equally competitive Sale had little interest in claiming that ace crown.
"I'm ready to take the ball whenever they hand it to me," said Sale from his home near Naples, Fla. "It's not for me to say what I am or who I am. I'll take the ball every fifth day, leave everything I have on the field and try to help us get the win."
Sale didn't have a great deal of time to talk baseball this past offseason, as he embarked on a five-wedding tour with his wife, Brianne. There were excursions to Nashville, Georgia and Arizona, for nuptials involving teammates John Danks, Gordon Beckham and Matt Lindstrom, along with a family New Year's trip to Jamaica. But with White Sox pitchers and catchers reporting to Camelback Ranch on Feb. 15, the focus has fallen squarely upon season preparation for the lanky left-hander.
After throwing a career-high 214 1/3 innings during a second straight All-Star effort, Sale started training about 1 1/2 weeks later than he did last offseason and started throwing two or three weeks later in mid-December. Sale's first game of catch always is with his dad, Allen, but he has been throwing four or five days per week with friend Chris Resop since the start of the new year.
He'll throw anywhere from four to six bullpen sessions and get off the mound three times before Arizona, focusing mainly on touch and feel and fastball location. It doesn't take long for Sale to get into throwing shape once he gets going, a trait he shares with Mark Buehrle, the previous White Sox ace, so he's working hard, but at a steady pace.
"I talked to Coop [White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper], and he was adamant on me not going full bore and not spinning breaking balls before Arizona," Sale said. "I feel better about that.
"In the past, I've shown up to Spring Training not totally ready [for the season], but close to it. I'm going to come into [Arizona] this year and build up more than maintain."
One piece of expected but still uplifting news is that Sale's arm started to feel good just four or five days after he threw for the first time. Sale has his release point, good angle and good arm whip, which are some of the keys to his success.
An overall 63-99 White Sox record contributed to Sale's undeserved 11-14 individual mark in '13. His won-loss ledger was the only blight on an American League Cy Young Award-caliber effort.
There were 226 strikeouts recorded against 46 walks and 184 hits allowed. Left-handed hitters finished a mere 20-for-148 against Sale, who hurled four complete games and took a perfect game into the seventh against the Angels on May 12, before settling for a one-hitter.
Yet, that exceptional showing was not a success by Sale's estimation. In the leadership role taken on by the soon-to-be 25-year-old, it's always team first. The '13 season was pretty much a 162-game run to forget for the White Sox: Make that, almost forget.
"Obviously it is good to remember going through times like that," Sale said. "But to be blunt: as terrible as that season was, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.
"So we just have to keep our heads up high and keep working. In 2012, we had all the bounces going our way. In 2013, we didn't play well, but there was not a whole lot of luck. As my dad said, hopefully we have all the bad luck out of the way."
Bad White Sox luck probably would have grown even worse in the offseason if one of the numerous opposing teams asking about Sale somehow found a way to pry him loose from general manager Rick Hahn's roster. Sale stays away from trade rumors, but it was hard to avoid with family members and friends asking him frequently.
Positive talks with Hahn throughout last season, during which the White Sox general manager remained consistently adamant in keeping Sale, coupled with the five-year, $32.5 million extension both sides agreed upon last Spring Training with club options for '18 and '19, gave Sale peace of mind that he was going nowhere.
"People speculate about anything, and everything is possible in this life," said Sale with a laugh. "The fact is signing that extension meant I not only wanted to stay there, but they wanted me."
Hahn's reshaping moves have impressed Sale, who would be even more ecstatic if the team added "the real deal" that is Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. On the flip side, Sale has great confidence in the present White Sox staff assembled with "no slouches."
When Spring Training begins in one month, 2013 mercifully will be forgotten. Sale sees a better '14 version all around, a team with a little more youth and more of a necessary edge.
"You have to have a little bit of [jerk] in you," said Sale, who mentioned the game's greatest players featured that respected intensity. "With being respected comes a little bit of fear.
"If opponents aren't afraid of what they are coming into, they get a little comfortable. There's no room in sports or on the baseball field for them to be comfortable."