Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011
By Brett Ballantini
CHICAGO If Chicago White Sox rookie Chris Sale watches The Office, he got a taste of a 9-to-5 life hell likely never know on Thursday, when his cubicled phone calls to White Sox season ticketholders were bookended by a short media session held in Director of Ticket Sales Tom Sheridans corner office at U.S. Cellular Field.
Sources say Sale left with no surreptitiously-lifted highlighters or post-it notepads, but as imagined, he handled his time under the office fluorescents just as smoothly as he does ninth-inning pitches under the floodlights illuminating the diamond.
Nonplussed doesnt begin to describe the beyond-his-years cool Sale brought to Sheridans desk on Thursday, swatting away potentially tricky questions about his 2011 role with the White Sox with aplomb.
To be totally honest, to me when I pitch doesnt really matter, Sale said when asked for the first of a few times about his upcoming role, which could range anywhere from the teams fifth starter to its closer, with any number of hybrid startingrelief roles in between. I just want to pitch. Ive played baseball my entire life, and my role doesnt matter, whether its starting, middle, long or closing.
Any of those scenarios could be in the offing for Sale, although with starter Jake Peavy working well ahead of schedule as he rehabilitates from latissimus dorsi surgery last July, it appears that Sale is destined for a shorter role with the team, which would almost certainly come down to occupying Matt Thorntons old role as primary lefty setup man or succeeding Bobby Jenks as the clubs closer.
WATCH: Thornton wants closer job
While a lot of worry about an undefined role for Sale swirls around him, from coaches and fans alike, the 21-year-old is completely composed.
Sale is a hurler whose relatively innocent, videogamer-next-door looks are utterly betrayed by fearlessness and badassity on the mound. Not yet three weeks in the bigs he failed to shake off a single call from catcher A.J. Pierzynski, improbably whiffing Minnesota Twins uberhitter Joe Mauer with three straight sliders and later shrugging off the immaculate nature of such an achievement with a simple A.J. called em, I threw em explanation.
Three days later, he rapped on manager Ozzie Guillens door and asked to start a game during an ill-timed twinight doubleheader in Kansas City, offering to rescue the staff at a time when the Chisox pitching corps was beyond strapped.
So, shifting from a starting role in, say, April to short relief later in the season? Been there, done that, says the kid.
I was a starter in college and when the White Sox signed me, they put me in the pen, Sale said with a shrug. It was something to adapt to, but not that big of a transition.
Sale would have had a remarkable 2010 even if he failed in the majors, as the first and only 2010 draft choice to play in the big leagues. But Sale thrived with the White Sox, going 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA, four saves in four chances and 12.3 K9.
Keep in mind that Sale was merely adding to an immaculate 2010 season that began 11-0 in 15 starts for Florida Gulf Coast College, melted through an accelerated tutorial of 11 games with the White Soxs Single-A and Triple-A clubs, and culminated in the bigs, where Sale almost immediately resumed his dominant pitching.
Guillen recounts the story of seeing just a short bit of tape of Sale at the time of the draft in June and remarking that hes better than some of the guys he had on the major-league roster at the time now to laughter, but the managers eye has proven astute. There simply arent many better than Sale.
READ: Ozzie talks lineup, wishes Jenks well
The lefty has a good read on two things regarding his career. First, theres a healthy likelihood that hes headed to the bullpen for a second straight season, perhaps as his clubs closer. Second, as soon as 2012, hell be penciled into the White Sox rotation and will finally get to trot out and show off perhaps his best out pitch, his changeup.
Sale is optimistic about both options, in whatever order they come.
Last year was unbelievable because I got experience pitching in the big leagues, he said. If I go back to the bullpen, Thornton and Sergio Santos are there, and they can help me. I kind of know the basics already.
Sale admitted theres an adjustment to being prepared to pitch on an everyday basis vs. the longer and less frequent outings of a starter. Likewise he confessed last fall that initially, his energy would pin when the call came to the pen, rousting him into warm-ups.
All offseason, Sale has prepared to start, and he knows that the rotation is his ultimate pitching destination.
Pitching coach Don Cooper said I will eventually be a starter, whether its this year or next, or whenever, that long-term Ill be a starter, the 65 fireballer said. Im not trying to make too much of my 2011 role. Whatever they want me to do in 2011, Ill give it 100 percent.
One thing Sale hasnt put 100 percent into is the popular pastime of picking out bullpen entry music. Whether its a nod to his preference to start games or simply aw-shucks awe at being counted on as a key staff member for a ballclub with playoff aspirations, Sale claims to not have put any thought into a replacement for the misappropriated Come Sail Away Styx ditty that welcomed him to the mound in his Chicago relief appearances.
Ive gotten that question of entry music a lot, believe it or not, Sale said with a laugh. But I havent thought much about it. Whatever they play, they play, and Ill go out there and be excited to pitch no matter whats on the P.A.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.