Business as usual for dominant Sale

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Business as usual for dominant Sale

As White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper puts it, the White Sox are working on transitioning Chris Sale from being one of the "baddest-ass lefty relievers in the league" to fulfilling his potential as a top-of-the-line starter.

Boston tried the same transition with Daniel Bard, who was sent back to Triple-A earlier this month. Neftali Feliz appears bound to return to the Rangers' bullpen when he returns from the disabled list. And even Jeff Samardzija was lit up by Minnesota for eight runs on Saturday. Making the transition from the bullpen to rotation isn't easy.

But Sale keeps making it look just that: easy. He threw eight shutout innings on Saturday, striking out seven while allowing no walks and four hits, all singles. In the process, he lowered his league-leading ERA to 2.05.

"We were just talking and someone asked if you need more from him," relayed Cooper before the game. "No, we dont need more. Close to what he's doing would be par for the course today."

If that's par for the course, an in-his-prime Tiger Woods would struggle to break even. In Sale's previous two starts, he nearly set a franchise record for strikeouts and followed that up with his first complete game.

"He's tough to hit against because he has a lot of different things he can throw," manager Robin Ventura explained. "I think a lot of people believe he just goes out and throws 98, 99, that's not what he does. He actually pitches, hits corners, creates angles and things like that that make him extremely tough. He's managing that by not having to max out on every pitch."

That pitching ability isn't found in everyone who can throw a high 90's fastball. But it's something that hasn't gone unnoticed by Sale's teammates.

"Ill tell you the most impressive thing that hes doing is hell throw a fastball 87 mph and then 95 mph," Adam Dunn said. "Hes not just throwing now. Hes pitching. For him to figure it out so quick, hes not max effort every single time. Hes pitching. Its scary."

Sale wasn't allowed to finish off what would've been his first shutout, though. He threw 101 pitches over eight innings, and with a comfortable lead over the Astros that ballooned to 10 on Dunn's grand slam, Sale was given the ninth inning off.

"I think today he probably could have finished," Ventura said. "But you're looking at the day, a warm day. He's got an extra day of rest so instead of letting him go out there and do 120, he's right around 100. So we just let Zach Stewart finish that up for him."

Sox fans, coaches and players alike held their breath for a few seconds when Sale awkwardly tumbled to the ground after being hit in his left heel with a comebacker off the bat of Jed Lowrie in the sixth. Luckily for the Sox, Sale popped right back up with a giant grin on his face as Ventura and head trainer Herm Schneider raced out to the mound.

"It's not like he has a lot of meat to take that stuff so I'm glad it was in the shoe," deadpanned Ventura.

"Yeah, I continue to keep looking unathletic out there as a fielder and trying to dodge balls," joked Sale.

But keeping Sale healthy isn't a laughing matter for the White Sox. With his eight innings of work, Sale has now thrown more innings this season than he did as a reliever in 2011. He had to argue his way out of being moved to the bullpen when he experienced a minor elbow issue in May, and it's a good thing he did. The Sox will, however, continue to closely monitor his every move and do whatever they can to keep him on the mound.

"He's getting extra days now," Cooper said. "Believe me, everything we can do to keep him healthy and strong and keep him going out there and doing what he's doing, it's getting taken care of."

An interesting debate would be how the White Sox would handle an All-Star berth for Sale. With the Sox looking to give Sale as much rest as possible, seeing him throw an inning -- or two, if he gets the start, which he very well might -- could be a little nerve-wracking. But if it fits into his normal throwing schedule, an inning or two certainly couldn't hurt.

"That would be awesome," Sale said of being named to the All-Star team. "You always think about those things as a kid, stuff like that. But at the same time, we got a ways to go before any of that stuff even starts happening. If I start looking toward that, I'll lose focus of what I got in front of me, and what I got in front of me is L.A. right now. I'm going to start preparing for that one tomorrow."

There's still a month between now and the best players in baseball descending on Kansas City. And while Sale has kept his stranglehold on leading the AL in ERA, that's not anything he's really concerned with.

"I'm not one to really look at my stats or anything like that," Sale said. "It really doesn't do anything for you if you have a five or a one ERA, you still gotta go out there and pitch and get outs. I keep saying it over and over, but that's my main focus, going out and making pitches and giving this team a chance to win."

The Sox have won eight of Sale's 11 starts, and six of his eight wins this season have come after a Sox loss. While Cooper would rather Sale be a pitcher that continues winning streaks, he's proven to be someone who can stop losing skids.

"He has a lot of that ability," Ventura said of Sale being the team's stopper. "Any time he pitches, whether you won or lost the day before, you feel like you're going to win his game."

Prospect Reynaldo Lopez struggles early, but White Sox top Reds

Prospect Reynaldo Lopez struggles early, but White Sox top Reds

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Reynaldo Lopez also struggled in his spring debut for the White Sox on Tuesday afternoon. 

The team's No. 4 overall prospect allowed five earned runs and four hits in 1 1/3 innings before the White Sox rallied for a 10-9 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear, Ariz. Lopez also walked one in his first performance for the team since it acquired him along with Lucas Giolito and Dane Dunning from the Washington Nationals in exchange for Adam Eaton. 

Another heralded prospect, Michael Kopech, struggled for the White Sox in his lone inning in an 8-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Glendale, Ariz. The performances come on the heels of Giolito, the team's top pitching prospect, allowing a run, three hits and a walk in two innings against the Cubs at Mesa, Ariz. on Monday.

"We don't feel that pressure," Lopez said through an interpreter. "We just try to do our job. We have a very good relationship. We are not desperate to show people what we can do because we know what we can do. We just try to do our job and try to do what we are supposed to do. I think that he's doing that too."

"I felt good. I made very good pitches. I throw a lot of strikes. I made a lot of mistakes too. But I think it was good for my first outing, it was good."

[MORE: Michael Kopech frustrated with first step in quest to prove White Sox right]

Leury Garcia went 3-for-4 with four RBIs in the victory. Yolmer Sanchez, Everth Cabrera and Danny Hayes each went 2-for-4. 

Matt Davidson and Tim Anderson each had two hits in the loss to Seattle.

White Sox manager Rick Renteria said Todd Frazier (mild oblique strain) continues to progress prior to Tuesday's split-squad doubleheader. Renteria wouldn't commit to a timeframe for Frazier's return when asked if playing this weekend is a possibility.

"We are going to keep monitoring him but he seems like he is kind of over the hump and trying to push himself into active duty," Renteria said. "We have to get him back into being more explosive in his actions. If he feels good and comfortable, there's every reason to believe that that's possible. I can't guarantee it."

Renteria also said pitcher Carlos Rodon would participate in his first bullpen session on either Wednesday or Thursday. He also believes Jose Abreu would be back in camp on Wednesday from a trip to Miami for personal reasons but isn't sure if the first baseman would return in time for the team's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Michael Kopech frustrated with first step in quest to prove White Sox right

Michael Kopech frustrated with first step in quest to prove White Sox right

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Michael Kopech was fairly upset with his performance Tuesday afternoon given how much he wants to make the White Sox look wise for their investment and silence his critics.

One of two highly-touted pieces acquired in the Chris Sale trade, Kopech intends to prove to his doubters that two questionable incidents from the past won't determine what appears to be a bright future chock full of 100-mph fastballs. 

So even though Tuesday's outing was his first with the team and should have little bearing on what's to come, the White Sox prospect hoped to provide his new team with much more. Kopech was instead saddled with a long first inning in which he flashed his dazzling potential and later was hit hard. He allowed four earned runs and three hits, including a three-run homer on an 0-2 pitch, in an 8-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Camelback Ranch. Kopech also struck out two and walked one.

"That's probably part of the reason I'm pretty upset about today," Kopech said. "I'm trying to prove some people right. Obviously that's not the way to do it, but it is early. I think there's some adjustments to be made and once those adjustments are made I can actually be pretty helpful."

The third-ranked prospect in the franchise and 16th overall in baseball, Kopech endured a year-long rough patch beginning in July 2015 when he was suspended 50 games after a positive test for Oxilofrine. Kopech told the Boston Globe last November he didn't knowingly take the substance, but took responsibility for his actions.

His reputation then took another hit last March when Kopech broke a bone in his pitching hand. While it has been reported as an altercation between teammates, Kopech told the Globe he was trying to protect his teammate.

When he returned to action in June, Kopech shined with a combined 2.08 ERA in 56 1/3 innings Single-A Lowell and Single-A Salem. He followed by posting a 2.01 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings at the Arizona Fall League. Kopech said his performance to end the 2016 season was critical moving forward.

"Bottom line is you can't take anything for granted," Kopech said in December. "I've missed too much time in my opinion. This half of the year was very important for me. I needed to show people, whoever, that I'm still out here to compete and get better."

Despite his blemishes off the field, the White Sox determined in late November that Kopech had to be included in a package if they indeed were trading Sale to the Red Sox. To reach that point, where they'd ask for Kopech as one of two main pieces in a deal for potentially the best pitcher in franchise history, the front office turned to both their pro and amateur scouts to search every nook and cranny for opinions.

"Any major transaction you try to do as much due diligence as you can," general manager Rick Hahn said. "We were fully satisfied with the explanation that (Kopech) gave, but also what we were able to uncover through people in the know. This is a really good kid and a kid who wants to be great and he's willing to pay the price and put in the work necessary to be great."

Knowing they'd rebuild, Hahn said the White Sox began to focus their scouts on particular organizations in July. That's when the process of digging deep on Kopech started.

The team contacted old coaches and former teammates to discern what they could about the 20-year-old, who often uses his social media accounts to tweet out inspirational messages and talk about his determination. By the time the White Sox elevated Kopech from potential target to definitive piece they had contacted 12-15 sources.

"In all, it kept coming to back to everybody saying he's so dialed in," amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said. "He's an intense kid. He's so hard core with everything he does. There's no soft with Kopech, that's for sure."

The hard-throwing Texan proved that point on Tuesday when he topped out at 101 mph on the radar gun. His fastball sat at 97 mph and he hit triple digits at least three times. 

Kopech started his performance with a three-pitch strikeout of Seattle's Ben Gamel, the radar reading 99, 100 and 100.  

Shortstop Jean Segura then got enough of a two-strike pitch to hit it in front of home plate, which led to an infield single. Segura stole second base and Kopech just missed outside on a 3-2 offering and walked Robinson Cano. Nelson Cruz followed with a rocketed opposite-field RBI double before Dan Vogelbach lined out to center. With two in scoring position and two outs, Kopech threw two quick strikes to Mitch Haniger and looked like he might escape the jam. But his 0-2 slider caught too much of the plate and Haniger crushed it for a three-run homer to left.

"There were some pitches that needed to be down in some counts and there's some pitches that needed to be way down," Kopech said.

Afterward, Kopech shied away from any possible excuses about his performance, one that ended with a strikeout of Carlos Ruiz. The adrenaline wasn't anything he hadn't dealt with before and he thought his pacing was fine. Even though he didn't get a borderline 3-2 pitch to Cano, Kopech thought it was a makeup for an earlier call that had gone in his favor. And even though it was his first outing in big league camp, Kopech wasn't awestruck by facing Cano and Cruz.

He was just disappointed that he didn't excel from the outset. Kopech knows there are plenty more opportunities ahead and believes he's everything the White Sox think he is. He just wants to prove it.

"The toughest part is to stop caring so much about what other people think," Kopech said. "Everybody wants that pat on the back. That's what I had to shy away from is just not to care so much about that because what's being written about me and being said about me wasn't who defines me. That was what I really had to come to grips with and figure out — I'm going to determine my career and not past experiences."