Business as usual for dominant Sale

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Business as usual for dominant Sale

As White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper puts it, the White Sox are working on transitioning Chris Sale from being one of the "baddest-ass lefty relievers in the league" to fulfilling his potential as a top-of-the-line starter.

Boston tried the same transition with Daniel Bard, who was sent back to Triple-A earlier this month. Neftali Feliz appears bound to return to the Rangers' bullpen when he returns from the disabled list. And even Jeff Samardzija was lit up by Minnesota for eight runs on Saturday. Making the transition from the bullpen to rotation isn't easy.

But Sale keeps making it look just that: easy. He threw eight shutout innings on Saturday, striking out seven while allowing no walks and four hits, all singles. In the process, he lowered his league-leading ERA to 2.05.

"We were just talking and someone asked if you need more from him," relayed Cooper before the game. "No, we dont need more. Close to what he's doing would be par for the course today."

If that's par for the course, an in-his-prime Tiger Woods would struggle to break even. In Sale's previous two starts, he nearly set a franchise record for strikeouts and followed that up with his first complete game.

"He's tough to hit against because he has a lot of different things he can throw," manager Robin Ventura explained. "I think a lot of people believe he just goes out and throws 98, 99, that's not what he does. He actually pitches, hits corners, creates angles and things like that that make him extremely tough. He's managing that by not having to max out on every pitch."

That pitching ability isn't found in everyone who can throw a high 90's fastball. But it's something that hasn't gone unnoticed by Sale's teammates.

"Ill tell you the most impressive thing that hes doing is hell throw a fastball 87 mph and then 95 mph," Adam Dunn said. "Hes not just throwing now. Hes pitching. For him to figure it out so quick, hes not max effort every single time. Hes pitching. Its scary."

Sale wasn't allowed to finish off what would've been his first shutout, though. He threw 101 pitches over eight innings, and with a comfortable lead over the Astros that ballooned to 10 on Dunn's grand slam, Sale was given the ninth inning off.

"I think today he probably could have finished," Ventura said. "But you're looking at the day, a warm day. He's got an extra day of rest so instead of letting him go out there and do 120, he's right around 100. So we just let Zach Stewart finish that up for him."

Sox fans, coaches and players alike held their breath for a few seconds when Sale awkwardly tumbled to the ground after being hit in his left heel with a comebacker off the bat of Jed Lowrie in the sixth. Luckily for the Sox, Sale popped right back up with a giant grin on his face as Ventura and head trainer Herm Schneider raced out to the mound.

"It's not like he has a lot of meat to take that stuff so I'm glad it was in the shoe," deadpanned Ventura.

"Yeah, I continue to keep looking unathletic out there as a fielder and trying to dodge balls," joked Sale.

But keeping Sale healthy isn't a laughing matter for the White Sox. With his eight innings of work, Sale has now thrown more innings this season than he did as a reliever in 2011. He had to argue his way out of being moved to the bullpen when he experienced a minor elbow issue in May, and it's a good thing he did. The Sox will, however, continue to closely monitor his every move and do whatever they can to keep him on the mound.

"He's getting extra days now," Cooper said. "Believe me, everything we can do to keep him healthy and strong and keep him going out there and doing what he's doing, it's getting taken care of."

An interesting debate would be how the White Sox would handle an All-Star berth for Sale. With the Sox looking to give Sale as much rest as possible, seeing him throw an inning -- or two, if he gets the start, which he very well might -- could be a little nerve-wracking. But if it fits into his normal throwing schedule, an inning or two certainly couldn't hurt.

"That would be awesome," Sale said of being named to the All-Star team. "You always think about those things as a kid, stuff like that. But at the same time, we got a ways to go before any of that stuff even starts happening. If I start looking toward that, I'll lose focus of what I got in front of me, and what I got in front of me is L.A. right now. I'm going to start preparing for that one tomorrow."

There's still a month between now and the best players in baseball descending on Kansas City. And while Sale has kept his stranglehold on leading the AL in ERA, that's not anything he's really concerned with.

"I'm not one to really look at my stats or anything like that," Sale said. "It really doesn't do anything for you if you have a five or a one ERA, you still gotta go out there and pitch and get outs. I keep saying it over and over, but that's my main focus, going out and making pitches and giving this team a chance to win."

The Sox have won eight of Sale's 11 starts, and six of his eight wins this season have come after a Sox loss. While Cooper would rather Sale be a pitcher that continues winning streaks, he's proven to be someone who can stop losing skids.

"He has a lot of that ability," Ventura said of Sale being the team's stopper. "Any time he pitches, whether you won or lost the day before, you feel like you're going to win his game."

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

Bobby Howry wasn't aware of the fact he was part of one of the more infamous transactions in White Sox history until a few years after it happened. 

In 1997, with the White Sox only 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians, general manager Ron Schueler pulled the trigger on a massive trade that left many around Chicago — including some in the White Sox clubhouse — scratching their heads. Heading to the San Francisco Giants was the team's best starting pitcher (left-hander Wilson Alvarez), a reliable rotation piece (Doug Drabek) and a closer coming off a 1996 All-Star appearance (Roberto Hernandez). In return, the White Sox acquired six minor leaguers: right-handers Howry, Lorenzo Barcelo, Keith Foulke, left-hander Ken Vining, shortstop Mike Caruso and outfielder Brian Manning. Only Foulke had major league experience, and it wasn't exactly good (an 8.26 ERA in 44 2/3 innings). 

Howry was largely oblivious to the shocking nature of the trade that brought him from the Giants to White Sox until, before the 1999 season, he was featured in a commercial that referenced the "White Flag trade."

"I don't even know if I knew it was called that before then," Howry recalled last weekend at the Sheraton Grand Chicago at Cubs Convention. 

The trade was a stark signal that youth would be emphasized on 35th and Shields. Both Alvarez and Hernandez were set to become free agents after the 1997 season, and the 40-year-old Darwin wasn't a long-term piece, either. With youngsters like Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee rising through the farm system, the move was made with an eye on the future and maximizing the return on players who weren't going to be long-term pieces. 

Sound familiar? 

It's hardly a perfect comparison, but when the White Sox traded Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox in December for four minor leaguers — headlined by top-100 prospects in Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech — it was the first rebuilding blockbuster trade the organization had made since the 1997 White Flag deal. Shortly after trading their staff ace at the 2016 Winter Meetings, the White Sox shipped Adam Eaton — their best position player — to the Washington Nationals for a package of prospects featuring two more highly-regarded youngsters in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. 

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And there still could be more moves on the horizon, too, for Rick Hahn's White Sox (Jose Quintana has been the subject of persistent rumors since the Winter Meetings). But for those looking for an optimistic outlook of the White Sox rebuilding plans, it's worth noting that the club's last youth movement, to an extent, was successful.

Only Howry (3.74 ERA over 294 games) and Foulke (2.87 ERA, 100 saves over 346 games) became significant long-term pieces for the White Sox from those six players brought over in 1997. And it wasn't like Schueler dealt away any of the franchise's cornerstones — like Frank Thomas, Albert Belle and Robin Ventura — but with future starters in Lee, Ordonez and Chris Singleton on their way the White Sox were able to go young. A swap of promising youthful players (Mike Cameron for Paul Konerko) proved to be successful a year and a half later. 

And with a couple of shrewd moves — namely, dealing Jamie Navarro and John Snyder to the Milwaukee Brewers for Cal Eldred and Jose Valentin — the "Kids Can Play" White Sox stormed to an American League Central title in 2000. 

"It was great," Howry said of developing with so many young players in the late 1999's and 2000. "You come in and you feel a lot more comfortable when you got a lot of young guys and you're all coming up together and building together. It's not like you're walking into a primarily veteran clubhouse where you're kind of having to duck and hide all the time. We had a great group of guys and we built together over a couple of years, and putting that together was a lot of fun."

What sparked things in 2000, Howry said, was that ferocious brawl with the Detroit Tigers on April 22 in which 11 players were ejected (the fight left Foulke needing five stitches and former Tigers catcher/first baseman Robert Fick doused in beer). 

"About the time we had that fight with Detroit, that big brawl, all of a sudden after then we just seemed to kind of come together and everything started to click and it took off," Howry said. 

The White Sox went 80-81 in 1998 and slipped to 75-86 in 1999, but their 95-67 record in 2000 was the best in the league — though it only amounted to a three-game sweep at the hands of the wild-card winning Seattle Mariners. 

Still, the White Flag trade had a happy ending two and a half years later. While with the White Sox, Howry didn't feel pressure to perform under the circumstances with which he arrived, which probably helped those young players grow together into eventual division champions. 

"I was 23 years old," Howry said. "At 23 years old, I didn't really — I was just like, okay, I'm still playing, I got a place to play. I didn't really put a whole lot of thought into three veteran guys for six minor leaguers." 

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins discusses staying at catcher

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins discusses staying at catcher

White Sox 2016 first round pick Zack Collins joins the podcast to talk about his future with the White Sox, when he hopes to make the big leagues and the doubters who question whether he can be a major league catcher.   He discusses comparisons with Kyle Schwarber, his impressions of Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, why his dad took him to a Linkin Park concert when he was 6 years old and much more.