GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Near the end of last season, Chris Sale was sitting at a lunchroom table inside the White Sox clubhouse when pitching coach Don Cooper gave him the news.
Youre going to join the starting rotation next season, Cooper said.
What was Sales initial thought?
Can I get one in before the season ended? I was trying to weasel my way into getting a start late in the year, Sale admitted in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. He entertained it for maybe a day or two, but it just didnt work out. Needless to say, Im really excited to take this on.
The 22-year-old lefty with a rail-thin body and fireballing arm is preparing for the biggest challenge of his professional career: moving from being a reliever to a starter, and even more imposing, filling the spot in the rotation left by Mark Buehrle, arguably the most dependable starter in the history of the White Sox franchise. In his first 11 full seasons in the majors, Buehrle topped the 200-inning mark every year, starting more games (362) than any other pitcher in baseball during that time.
After pitching just 104 13 innings combined the last two seasons in the majors and minors, no one expects Sale to throw 200 innings in 2012.
That is, no one but Chris Sale.
Its not a matter of whether I think I can. I want to, said Sale. Thats something that I want to push for because thats what this team needs. I dont really like to set goals or live up to expectations and stuff because I tried doing that last year and I failed miserably.
Hailed by fans and media as the second-coming after his spectacular debut at the end of the 2010 season, Sale started to believe the hype when the White Sox broke camp last spring. However, the phenom quickly came back down to Earth after getting pummeled in April and May, posting a 5.31 ERA.
The first couple months I was just struggling miserably, both physically and mentally. Going out there getting rocked for an inning, giving up runs, walking guys and stuff like that. It really kind of bothered me, Sale said. I let it all get to me. Im so passionate about pitching. This is something Ive done my entire life. This is really the one thing that Im good at. For me to go out there and not succeed like I wanted to, it was killing me.
Fortunately for Sale, he received some great advice from his teammates and coaches.
Some of the guys were just like, Hey its over. Youre not going to go back and fix that. Focus on what you need to do now. Clear your mind. Dont think about that stuff because any negative energy coming towards you, its a waste. Talking with Coop, he really kind of led me through this last year. I was very fortunate for that and very thankful for that.
Those same pitchers who came to his emotional rescue are amazed by Sales freakish ability, even his fellow starters -- great talents of their own whose jaws drop when they watch him pitch.
He definitely has the best stuff on our team, said Gavin Floyd, who held that title until Sale arrived. When he first came up, they all had the scouting report on him and I looked in the other dugout and they were like, Look at this guy. Then all of sudden you see the radar and the miles per hour, and they all started laughing. Theyre like, Man, we never expected that out of this guy.
Floyds praise for Sale is actually dwarfed by the words coming from 2007 Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy.
Chris Sale is as good as anybody that I have ever played with as far as his raw, physical talent, said Peavy, who has played with the likes of Greg Maddux, Trevor Hoffman, David Wells and Heath Bell.
When I told Sale about Peavys compliment, he was floored by it.
Thats one of the best compliments Ive ever gotten, Sale said. Jakes a great guy and I know hes worked real hard to get back healthy. Im pretty sure hes tired of talking about it. Hes a warrior out there. Hes a guy that I look up to. For him to say those things about me is pretty special.
To prepare his body for the endurance needed to be a full-time starter in the majors, Sale added swimming to his workout routine, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather who were both excellent swimmers back in the day. In fact, Sales dad was an All-American swimmer at Daytona Beach Community College and still owns records from their hometown of Lakeland, Fla.
He actually got on me the other day because he saw where I was talking about how he showed me swimming, and I called him an old man, Sale said. He goes, Next time youre at home, this old man will school you in the pool! He didnt much like that.
Is Chris a good swimmer?
I can float.
And when he finished with his strenuous aquatic workouts Chris was relieved...because he could eat.
I came home and crushed food every time, Sale said. Something about getting in a pool, you just automatically get hungry.
Taking a glance at his 170-pound beanpole body, it sure didnt look like it.
I gained about 20 pounds this offseason, and for some reason I lost it all before I came out here, joked Sale. Thats my story and Im sticking to it.
While his body might not carry that much weight, his stuff just might carry the White Sox rotation for years to come.