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.

White Sox Road Ahead: Heating up on the South Side

White Sox Road Ahead: Heating up on the South Side

CSN's JJ Stankevitz and Siera Santos discuss the struggles of James Shields while also going over a difficult upcoming series for the White Sox in this week's Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana Honda dealers.

On the back of Chris Sale and his 13th win, the White Sox are back to .500 after taking two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays.

The South Siders have now won five of their last seven games, and won back-to-back series for the first time in nearly two months. They're now 2.5 games behind the Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot and are playing much better baseball as they head toward the All-Star break.

Hear what JJ Stankevitz and Siera Santos had to say about their big week, as well as their upcoming three-game series against the Twins, in this week's Honda Road Ahead video above.

White Sox win consecutive series for first time since late April

White Sox win consecutive series for first time since late April

The White Sox have been adamant the baseball they’ve played the past six weeks isn’t far removed from their torrid start to the season.

Now they have something to show for it.

Courtesy of a 5-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field, the White Sox have back-to-back series victories for the first time since they swept the Texas Rangers and Toronto two months ago. With five wins in their last seven tries, the White Sox improved to 38-38 as they head into a much-needed day off.

“It’s huge,” said outfielder J.B. Shuck, whose second homer in as many days provided an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth. “You feel kind of a weight lifted off the shoulders in the clubhouse. We’ve been grinding. Even some of our losses, we’ve been in games. We’ve come back, we’ve given ourselves a chance and one thing here or there kind of led us to losing and now it’s starting to work for us a little bit.”

A week ago the White Sox were coming off yet another demoralizing road sweep against an AL Central opponent. They had played well in two of three contests against the Cleveland Indians but came up empty. That sweep followed one at the Detroit Tigers earlier in the month and another previous one during a hellish May weekend in Kansas City.

But starting with an extra-innings win at the Boston Red Sox on Monday night, the White Sox have started to put things together more consistently than they had of late.

They capitalized on good pitching in the first two victories over the Red Sox and then the offense did the heavy lifting in an 8-6 win on Wednesday. Though they didn’t close out a sweep of Boston, the White Sox carried it over to their home series against Toronto.

“We need some of those,” said closer David Robertson, who retired the side on 10 pitches in the ninth to convert his 20th save. “When you get your butt kicked and you get swept in places, you gotta come home and win some games. We’re playing a lot better baseball. We’re pitching better. Hopefully it continues and we stay strong.”

Sunday’s victory was full of quality play in all aspects for the White Sox.

-- Chris Sale was dominant for seven of eight innings and earned his 13th victory in 15 decisions.

-- Robertson’s inning aside, Sale gave the bullpen another critical day of rest.

“It’s kind of relaxing,” reliever Zach Duke said.

-- Beginning with Adam Eaton’s major-league leading 10th outfield assist in the first inning, the defense turned in several big plays behind Sale, including double plays in the fourth and seventh.

-- The offense provided several timely hits, whether Melky Cabrera’s two-out RBI single in the third or Shuck’s solo homer to increase the lead back to three runs in the eighth.

Now the White Sox have a day to rest before they continue their homestand on Tuesday with the first of three against the Minnesota Twins.

“I like the way we're playing,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think offensively, we're swinging it a little bit, doing some things, and playing defense along with it. That's a good sign for us to be able to continue to do that. Pitchers are getting back to being healthy and getting after it. I like the way this is headed. I like the fire that these guys have shown and bouncing back in some tough situations.”

Chris Sale cruises as White Sox top Blue Jays

Chris Sale cruises as White Sox top Blue Jays

Justin Timberlake, Drake and Desiigner were among the musical choices on Sunday. But over the last week, the White Sox have been able to blast plenty of celebratory songs in their clubhouse with regularity, representing an audible change from the postgame silence that largely accompanied a stretch of 26 losses in 36 games that looks to be in the rearview mirror. 

Chris Sale delivered eight strong innings to pace the White Sox to a 5-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays Sunday afternoon in front of 28,345 at U.S. Cellular Field. The White Sox, who took three of four from the Boston Red Sox last week at Fenway Park, last won back-to-back series from April 22-27 against the Texas Rangers and Blue Jays. 

“You look at the teams we went up against too, Boston and Toronto, those are two of the best in the league,” Sale said, referring to both of the American League’s wild card leaders. “... This is what we needed. Stuff like this is what makes you turn the corner. 

“We’ve been listening to some music lately and it’s been fun.”

Sale scattered five hits and two walks and was the recipient of some solid defense behind him. Right fielder Adam Eaton threw out Josh Donaldson at second base in the first inning when the reigning American League MVP tried to stretch a line drive off the wall into a double, and a sterling double play turned by third baseman Tyler Saladino and second baseman Brett Lawrie erased a Donaldson single in the seventh. 

Troy Tulowitzki and Junior Lake both blasted solo home runs in the top of the eighth, but that was the only damage Toronto was able to inflict against Sale. 

The 27-year-old only sprinkled six strikeouts throughout the afternoon as he consistently pounded the strike zone. His efficiency was welcome news for a relief corps that’s had to cover plenty of stressful outs and innings over the last few weeks. 

Only David Robertson — who earned his 20th save — had to jog in from the left field bullpen on Sunday. 

“The way the bullpen was, (Sale) was fantastic today,” manager Robin Ventura said. 

“It’s nice, it’s refreshing, it’s needed,” reliever Zach Duke said. “What (Sale) did today is huge for all of us. To have a guy like that helps everybody.”

Sale only threw 99 pitches, but the home runs he allowed in the eighth inning — which were followed by a walk to Darwin Barney — led Ventura to pull his starter three outs shy of a complete game. 

“He had really good command today with all of his pitches working in and out,” catcher Alex Avila said. “He changed speeds really well with his fastball today along with the great command. He was throwing strikes, a lot of strikes, today, and he did a great job.”

Sale was supported by some opportunistic baserunning from Eaton and Saladino, a scorching Melky Cabrera (who went 3-4 with an RBI) and solo home runs off the bats of Tim Anderson and J.B. Shuck. 

The White Sox improved to 13-3 in games started by Sale, who also became baseball’s first 13-game winner on Sunday. Even during a lengthy nadir from mid-May through the end of last weekend’s sweep in Cleveland, Sale won five games — half the team’s total from May 10 through June 19. 

But the White Sox feel like their arrow is pointing up after winning five of their last seven games against Boston and Toronto. Sale made sure on Sunday this newfound era of good feelings wasn’t going to meet a premature end. 

“It’s just a sign we’re starting to get back on the right track,” Shuck said. “We’re playing the baseball we want to play.”