Opening Day start the next step for Sale

Opening Day start the next step for Sale

March 17, 2013, 3:30 pm
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If Chris Sale feels like he has it all, it's not an unwarranted belief. The left-hander turns 24 two days before taking the ball on Opening Day for the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. He's already made an All-Star team, has a $30 million contract and is married with a kid.

"(I) called my dad the other day and said, ‘When am I going to wake up? When’s the wake up call coming?' " Sale recalled Sunday. "It’s a lot to take in, but I’m certainly appreciative of everything. I know what’s gone on doesn’t happen to a lot of people, so I’ve noticed that and taken that in. I'm trying to appreciate this and show that I appreciate it."

Sale admits he's excited about the opportunity, but also views being an Opening Day starter as "kind of overrated." Still, Opening Day crowds are more electric by nature, something the left-hander realizes he'll have to deal with.

"I’m definitely going to have to collect myself, that’s for sure, stay focused and take a lot of deep breaths," Sale said. "The last couple Opening Days I’ve said I feel like a kid in a candy shop. One of those days, it’s fun, it’s excitement, it’s the energy around. Everyone’s excited, the fans are going nuts. And being a part of that now could be overwhelming. I’m going to do everything I can to collect my thoughts and stand on an even plane."

Sale knew he was going to start on April 1 a few days ago, but played coy with the media when asked on Saturday. Manager Robin Ventura thought Sale's poor outing Saturday -- 5 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 2 BB -- was part of being amped up after learning he'd start Opening Day, although Sale didn't buy that assessment.

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Either way, he'll have to keep his emotions in check when he takes the mound at U.S. Cellular Field in just over two weeks. Jake Peavy started four consecutive Opening Days for San Diego, a few of which came at a time when the Padres were legitimate contenders for the National League West. The most intense pitcher on the White Sox, though, said the most important thing a pitcher can do in an Opening Day atmosphere is to treat it like any other game.

"There is definitely some extra adrenaline – it’s Opening Day," Peavy explained. "After the first pitches of the game it’s really no different, other than having a sold out crowd. You settle right in, it’s a game, you go out and compete. Chris will be just fine controlling his emotions.

"On and off the field Chris doesn’t act like a 23-year-old," he added. "That definitely plays good for him."

Sale earned his Opening Day bid with a breakout 2012 season, his first as a starter. The left-hander threw 192 innings with a 3.05 ERA, and struck out 192 with 51 walks and 19 home runs allowed. In the season, Sale had a short-lived move to the bullpen, got extra rest on occasion and had a late-season velocity dropoff.

Those factors, combined with a delivery that makes some observers cringe, mean questions will persist about his ability to stay healthy. Most recently, Will Carroll -- a sports medicine writer formerly of Baseball Prospectus and Sports Illustrated -- gave Sale a "red" rating in his annual injury report, meaning he sees Sale as a high-risk candidate to get injured.

Of course, that came with the caveat that head trainer Herm Schneider and pitching coach Don Cooper have generally succeeded at keeping the team's pitchers healthy (a topic Dan Hayes covered a month ago). No matter what, though, questions about Sale's durability will persist.

Sale hopes to throw 100 pitches in his next Cactus League outing, and then dial things back for his final start in Arizona. Throughout spring training, he and the White Sox haven't expressed the kind of concern over his future others have.

If Sale's first season as a starter was any indication, he's the kind of elite pitcher that can lead a starting rotation for years -- barring an injury, of course. While the Opening Day start, All-Star status and handful of Cy Young votes are nice, Sale's not consuming himself with being one of baseball's best starters.

"I don't do it to be put in a category or for people to look at me any different. I do it for myself and for my team," Sale said Saturday. "If I go out there and give up five runs or if I go out there and throw a no-hitter, I've left everything I had out on the field.

"Whether that makes me elite, not elite, somewhere in the middle, that's really not a decision for me to make."