There isn't much clarity regarding Chris Sale's health and role with the White Sox as of right now. His maybe-precautionary-or-routine MRI tomorrow in Chicago should clear some things up, as will the meeting of the team brass after the results are in. Hopefully, we'll have an answer about what Sale's role will be in 2012 come Friday.
But let's deal with what we do know right now: Sale struggled in his return to the bullpen Tuesday night. His stat line doesn't look terrible: 1 inning, 1 run (unearned), 1 strikeout, 1 walk, 1 hit. But both runners Sale inherited scored, along with the game-tying run on a single by Carlos Santana. He entered with a 3-0 lead and left with the game tied.
Sale had no feel for his slider, throwing it 11 times for just three strikes. As a result, his fastball became pretty hittable, clocking in with an average velocity of 94 mph and being thrown for a strike on 11 of 15 offerings.
To be fair, Sale was victimized by a misplay of a slow grounder by Alexei Ramirez, and the first run scored on a groundout to Paul Konerko because of it. But by the time Santana stepped up to hit with the bases loaded, it was clear Sale had lost his slider, and Santana ripped the fourth straight fastball he saw up the middle for a game-tying single.
Sale's velocity was down a tick from his 2011 average (95.3 miles per hour -- he was at 94.4 mph Tuesday), although that shouldn't be taken as a definite sign he's hurt. That's still up about two miles per hour from his season average, and we'd probably need a few more innings of slightly decreased velocity to make a statement in that regard.
We also know Sale would rather start than pitch in relief -- Jim Margalus of South Side Sox picked up on that looking at yesterday's broadcast and Mark Gonzales reported Sale was "visibly upset" with the move to the bullpen -- so there's that. But Robin Ventura seems set on leaving Sale as the closer. Don Cooper may or may not disagree. And we don't know what Rick Hahn, Kenny Williams & Co. think yet.
We also can reasonably hypothesize that Addison Reed would make a fine closer, and the Sox don't need Sale in that role. Reed's nailed down two saves since Sale was moved from the rotation, and it's not like he doesn't have experience finishing off games -- he closed for San Diego State when Stephen Strasburg was in the Aztec rotation and absolutely has the pedigree to pitch in the ninth.
So hopefully, we'll have closure, or at least an answer, as to Sale's future on Friday. Until then, we'll be left guessing.