Sale moving to bullpen, will close

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Sale moving to bullpen, will close

In a move that has serious short and long-term repercussions, Chris Sale is no longer a starter.

According to MLB.com's Scott Merkin, Sale experienced some tenderness in his elbow and in an effort to keep him healthy, the White Sox are moving him to the bullpen, where he will close. Dylan Axelrod will start Sunday's contest against the Tigers, while Hector Santiago will move to middle relief.

On Wednesday, Sale appeared on Chicago Tribune Live and seemed pleased with his development as a starter (see his full comments in the video to the right). So that's why Friday's announcement is so jarring.

Short-term, this is both good and bad news for the White Sox. The good news is that the Sox probably won't have to worry much about the ninth inning, which has been shaky with Santiago pitching as the closer this season. Sale has been dynamite as a reliever, posting a 2.58 ERA with 111 strikeouts and 37 walks in 94 13 innings between 2010 and 2011.

But losing Sale as a starter may outweigh gaining him as a closer. Assuming Sale was able to stay healthy as a starter, he had all the makings of a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. In 32 innings over five starts this season, Sale had a 2.81 ERA with 29 strikeouts and eight walks. But his velocity saw a drop in his last outing, which may have precipitated this move, along with his reported tightnesssoreness.

There's little chance Sale will provide more value to the White Sox as a closer than as a starter (again, assuming Sale could've stayed healthy as a starter). Case in point: through five starts this season, Fangraphs had Sale worth about 1 win above replacement -- only half a win less than he earned in 58 relief appearances with the White Sox in 2011.

Simply put, Sale can't have as great an impact on the White Sox if he's only pitching one inning at a time. Of course, this move was made for reasons beyond value, and Sale can't contribute anything if he winds up on the disabled list. So if moving him to the bullpen ultimately is a way to keep him healthy, then it's the right call.

For Axelrod, this is a huge break. He has a chance to earn a spot in a big-league starting rotation for the first time in his career, and if he's able to pitch half as good as he did in Charlotte, he'll earn it.

Four Triple-A starts are hardly reliable, but at least they were four very good ones. Axelrod posted a 1.08 ERA with 26 strikeouts and four walks in 25 innings for the Knights before he was called up when Jesse Crain went down with an injury in late April.

With Axelrod in the rotation, the Sox will have a difficult roster decision on their hands when Crain returns. Nate Jones would be the most likely candidate to be shipped off to the minors, although he has a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings. The Sox will probably opt to keep Zach Stewart in the bullpen given his long-relief abilities.

Sale's move to the bullpen gives the Sox an excess of left-handed relievers, though, so perhaps the other option is to send Santiago down or, just speculating, part ways with Will Ohman, who has a 6.23 ERA in 8 23 innings this season.

But whatever move the Sox make in that regard will be minor compared to Sale's move back to the bullpen. The door may not be shut on Sale starting at some point in his career, but it appears to be open by just a crack.

Sale was drafted No. 13 overall to be a starter, no matter how impressive he looked pitching in relief. Many evaluations pegged Sale as a future reliever, though, and right now, it looks like that'll be his role.

Preview: Jose Quintana, White Sox continue series with Mariners tonight on CSN

Preview: Jose Quintana, White Sox continue series with Mariners tonight on CSN

The White Sox continue their series against the Seattle Mariners, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 5:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Tonight’s starting pitching matchup: Jose Quintana (10-9, 2.84 ERA) vs. Ariel Miranda (1-0, 5.49 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

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Chris Sale strikes out 14 but White Sox fall to Mariners

Chris Sale strikes out 14 but White Sox fall to Mariners

Felix Hernandez has proven for years that he doesn’t need much help.

But the White Sox provided him with three free outs on the bases anyway on Friday night.

Those mistakes allowed Hernandez to hold the White Sox in check as they wasted a 14-strikeout performance from Chris Sale in a 3-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners in front of 25,651 at U.S. Cellular Field. Sale retired 16 in a row to end it, but it wasn’t enough as the White Sox dropped back to five games below .500.

“We didn’t run the bases very well tonight,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “That ends up costing you. You’re getting something going against them, and it just takes the wind out of your sails. Both guys pitched great.

“They just executed better than we did when they got the chance. Both guys were going strong. The way we ran the bases, we didn’t deserve to win that game.”

Sale (15-7) deserved much better than to lose for the fifth time in his last six decisions.

[MORE: White Sox trade catcher Dioner Navarro to Blue Jays]

Though he allowed a run in the second, third and fourth innings, Sale got on a roll late.

After Adam Lind’s two-out RBI double in the fourth, Sale found an extra gear and retired the last 16 Mariners to hit, including 10 strikeouts. He struck out the side in the sixth and seventh innings and afforded his teammates a chance to rally.

“Thank God we did it early because as everybody saw, when he gets on a roll it’s like lights out,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “He’s obviously one of the best pitchers in the league for a reason. We had no chance, really, after the fourth and fifth inning. He got into a groove and got all his pitches working.”

Two of Seattle’s three runs off Sale came on opposite-field drives as Lind doubled to left in the fourth and Franklin Gutierrez homered to right in the second inning. Sale walked none and only allowed five hits and three runs in nine innings. He threw strikes on 88 of 120 pitches.

It was the 13th complete game of Sale’s career and his fifth this season.

“I wanted to find a groove and I felt like after the fourth inning I got into a pretty good groove, that cruising speed I was talking about,” Sale said. “I just tried to lengthen it as much as I could, just fill up as many innings as I could. Just give us a chance to win, keep us in the game.”

While Sale kept his team in the game, they repeatedly took themselves out of it.

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The White Sox had plenty of chances against Hernandez, none better than the bottom of the eighth inning. Trailing by two runs, Avisail Garcia and Tyler Saladino singled on both sides of a J.B. Shuck fielder’s choice. Adam Eaton’s one-out walk knocked Hernandez out of the game after 104 pitches.

But closer Edwin Diaz got Tim Anderson to hit into a fielder’s choice as third baseman Shawn O’Malley made a perfect throw home on the slow roller for a force out. Jose Abreu then fouled out to leave the bases loaded. Diaz retired the side in order in the ninth for his 11th save.

Todd Frazier homered in the seventh inning of Hernandez for the team’s only run, but they should have had more. The White Sox had the leadoff man reach base in five of eight innings started by Hernandez, who allowed a run and eight hits in 7 1/3 innings. Hernandez erased two of those five as he picked off Frazier and Shuck in the second and third innings. He also got out of a first-and-third jam in the fifth inning when Shuck lined into a double play and Omar Narvaez was caught leaning.

“That’s the frustrating part,” Ventura said. “You know you’re not really going to have too many opportunities (against Hernandez). You might be able to hit and run or all of a sudden you’re first and third. But if you just take it out of your own hands, that’s where you scratch your head.”

White Sox hope second-rounder Alec Hansen's 'fun ride' continues at Kannapolis

White Sox hope second-rounder Alec Hansen's 'fun ride' continues at Kannapolis

The way he dominated the Pioneer League had to boost to Alec Hansen’s confidence. It also prompted his promotion.

When the White Sox sent their second-round pick to Great Falls last month it was in the hope he could rebound from a rough junior season at Oklahoma that caused his draft stock to fall. Once thought to be the potential first overall pick of the 2016 draft, Hansen was selected 49th after he posted a 5.40 ERA and walked 39 batters in 51.2 innings. But Hansen — who made his first start at Single-A Kannapolis on Friday — looked every bit the first-rounder at Great Falls with a 1.23 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 36.2 innings.

“We wanted to put him in a position where there was a little less pressure to start off the season,” White Sox player development director Nick Capra said. “There's always pressure, but it's a little less magnified in the Pioneer League. We wanted to get him on the right road. We did a couple things with him mechanically and he took off with it.”

“We kind of held him hostage in Great Falls a little bit too long. He’s been really good. He’s double-digit strikeouts every night. He’s not walking people.”

Hansen is expected to make two starts at Kannapolis before the team’s season ends. He earned a no decision after he allowed three earned runs and five hits with two walks and six strikeouts in five innings against the Columbia Fireflies on Friday.

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Capra described the mechanical changes the White Sox made with Hansen as minor. Essentially, they want Hansen to take advantage of his 6-foot-8 frame and stay taller and release the ball more quickly. They believe it will help him better command his pitches.

Through 11 minor-league starts, Hansen has walked 18 batters in 49 innings (he also pitched seven innings in Arizona). That’s compared with the 96 batters he walked in 145 innings in college.

“Our player development guys deserve so much credit for the way they've handled it,” amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said. “There was a little bit of concern about the confidence part of it, just him taking the ball every fifth day and knowing that we believe in him. Our pitching guys and PD guys deserve a huge amount of credit for just the time they put into it. They really, really know how to make these guys excel and succeed. Been a pretty fun ride to watch and I hope it continues.”