Sale on pitching, food & 'the year of my life'

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Sale on pitching, food & 'the year of my life'

Monday, March 7, 2011
3:07 p.m.

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

On a recent spring training morning in Glendale, Chris Sale, the White Sox beanpole reliever arrived at Camelback Ranch with some exciting news to share with head trainer, Allen Thomas.

I said, A.T., youd be so proud of me, Sale recalls. I went home, had some chicken, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and I cleared the plate! Then I had two bowls of cereal, a pint of ice cream, a couple bottles of water, and went to bed. He was like, That a boy!

While this "extreme" eating event didnt make it onto the front page of any newspaper, it was a monumental achievement for a skinny, scrawny left-hander, who stands 6-foot-5, weighs 170 pounds, and can sometimes be mistaken for a long piece of rope or a fishing line.

Its gotten to the point where Im getting excited about my eating habits, Sale says.

But lets be serious. He could probably use a whole lot more junk food than that.

I think Ive heard that from someone before, he says with a laugh.

From who? I ask.

Everyone.

Whatever Sale is doing, both on and off the field, the best advice is this: keep doing it. After getting drafted in the first round by the White Sox last June, Sale blasted through the minor leagues like a screaming torpedo, flying past Winston-Salem-A and Charlotte-AAA, before landing safely in the big leagues in August. With a triple-digit fastball and back-breaking change-up, its a place he clearly belongs.

But the speed in which it all happened, professionally and personally, was quite overwhelming.

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2010 was the year of my life, he says. I got drafted, made my major league debut, got engaged, had a son. It was just a crazy year.

Especially when you consider that the Sox fireballer didnt actually become one until he made it to the big leagues.

Aug. 21 in Kansas City to be exact.

I had never thrown a pitch over 96 miles per hour before. Ever, Sale explains. I hit 97 in Triple-A, but it didnt count because it was a fastball and it hit the ground before it even hit the plate. And in my first few (major league) outings, I was 92, 93, and then something just happened. I dont know what it was.

Entering the game in the 9th inning that day, Sale pitched 1.2 innings of hitless baseball, but took the loss (his first and only last season), after a walk he gave to Wilson Betemit produced the game-winning run after Bobby Jenks surrendered a base hit to Yuniesky Betancourt in the 11th.

Its also the only run Sale gave up on the road in 10.2 innings.

After the game, Sale went to his locker and noticed that his phone was blowing up.

I got about 20 text messages from friends saying, Hey, we just saw you throw 101 miles an hour. Whats this all about? And I was like, Hold on...what??

Basically overnight, the Sox flimsy featherweight turned into a dangerous flamethrower who could test the laws of baseball physics every time he came out of the bullpen.

So what happened? What was it? Adrenaline??

It had to have been, he says. That was a tight situation I was coming into. I try to use that adrenaline, the rush of being in a pressure situation and really using it towards pitching effectively; throwing harder, being more focused. I mean, there are some nights I can't go to sleep until 3 o'clock in the morning.

Sale looks up.

Im like, when am I going to fade out? I just stare at the ceiling.

When Sale first arrived in the majors, White Sox fans werent sure what they were seeing.

My debut was kind of rough. That was when the pressure got to me, Sale remembers.

It was Aug. 6 in Baltimore.

I was in my own head. I was out there thinking, Don't give up a home run and don't walk a guy. Well, I walked the first guy and gave up an 0-2 hit to the next guy and my night was done. After that the guys were like, Hey listen it's out of the way. We don't think any different of you. When you get out there, just start breathing.
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I tell Chris that it did look like he was having trouble breathing on the mound that night.

You kidding me? I ran from the bullpen to the mound and I was out of breath! I got done pitching and was like, I only threw like seven pitches, but I felt like I was out there for an hour and a half!

Besides realizing his need for an oxygen tank, Sale says he learned something else that night.

The game speeds up on you, so just slow it down. Throw strikes. You don' t need to go out there and over-pitch. That's what I was trying to do. I was trying to be too good, trying to throw the nastiest pitch in the world when the pitch that Im throwing is going to get the job done anyways.

After that, Sale was almost impossible to hit. He finished his rookie season going 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA, striking out 32 in 23.1 innings. Hes now in camp competing for the closer's job with Matt Thornton and Sergio Santos. If he doesnt get it, no worries. Youre talking about a kid who a year ago at this time was living in a dorm room at Florida Gulf Coast University.

To me, pitching is pitching. I love to play baseball. Thats all I'm here to do. Whether that's starting, middle relief, late relief, closer, I just want to pitch.

And gain weight.

Sale says his waist size is around 28. Yep, 28...same as his Dads when he got married once upon a time. The White Sox dont have any pants with a waist that small, so Chris is fitting snuggly into a size 34, thanks to a very strong belt.

As you can see my belt is actually on the last notch here, Sale points out. I'm not skinny enough where I have to create my own hole, so it's on the last one. Hopefully by the end of the season I can get it to this second notch.

That would be progress.

So Chris will keep on pitching, while doing a whole bunch of eating; steak, burgers, candy bars, milk shakes. You name it. And while hes shoveling in all the food, someone pass the Alka-Seltzer. Chris doesnt need it. Judging by last season, the rest of the American League most certainly will.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox sluggers Frank Thomas and Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Why Adam Engel came up with his unique batting stance, and how he's tweaked it since

Adam Engel stepped into the batter’s box for his first major league at-bat in May armed with a batting stance that, to say the least, wasn’t conventional. 

Engel’s hands were pushed far away from his body and were level with his head. His bat pointed straight up in the air, and his right (back) arm was raised above his left (front) one. On first glance, you had to wonder — how can that be comfortable? 

“That’s something that I probably wouldn’t coach a little kid to do,” Engel said. 

But there was a well-thought-out method to Engel’s stance. He used the word “tension” in describing what he was trying to avoid by thrusting his hands high and away from his body. And as White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson noted, nobody does anything well when they’re tight. 

“The closer I get my hands to my body, I tend to grab the bat a little harder, which causes a chain reaction I don’t want,” Engel said. “As long as my hands get to where I want them before I start swinging, that’s the goal.”

Since arriving in the majors two months ago, though, Engel has lowered his hands and dropped his back elbow. Here’s the difference in his stances between his first career hit (May 27) and his first career home run (June 25)

And almost a month later, Engel's gradually brought his hands lower:

For a rookie, tinkering with hand placement can be hazardous. But Engel’s batting stance has been a work in progress for a while now, as evidenced by what it was back in spring training of 2016:

Even during spring training in 2017, Engel’s stance was closer to what it was in 2016 than what it was when he made his major league debut:

But here’s the point Steverson made about all those tweaks and changes: As long as it helps Engel get the barrel of his bat to the point of contact, who cares how it looks before the swing?

“At the point of contact, 99.9 percent of every hitter looks the same,” Steverson said. “… How you get it done is based upon timing and your inner functions. But can I get it to here on time is what it’s all about. There’s many myriad ways of doing that. You’re not going to teach somebody to do that because there’s not their functions. 

“… You got guys (in basketball) taking free throws different — did it go in the bucket or did it not go in the bucket? It’s kind of the same way with hitting. Can I get the barrel to the point of contact or can I not get the barrel to the point. And that’s the end of the story.”

The 25-year-old Engel is still trying to find his way through his first major league season, hitting .233 with a .317 on-base percentage and a below-average .650 OPS.  But he’s had some sporadic positive results, like his four-hit game against the Minnesota Twins June 22. 

There’s a fine line between finding a batting stance and hand placement that you’re comfortable with and tinkering too much, especially for a player as green as Engel. But he’ll continue to put in the work trying to find something that will yield consistent success — and that may mean another batting stance that sticks out. 

“it’s just pregame work, watch a lot of video on the starter before the games and then try to work all my work pregame, batting practice, swings in the cage, try to have a mindset that I’m going to have in the game,” Engel said. “Work on the mindset, and then when I step in the box, it’s as close to practice as it can be.” 

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

Yoan Moncada's first White Sox game had same 'special' feeling as MLB debut

First came the roar from the home crowd. Then a bunch of fans in the first deck beyond third base stood to watch Yoan Moncada. The patient approach surfaced next.

Moncada made his White Sox debut on Wednesday night and although it didn’t feature any highlight reel moments, there were plenty of good signs. Moncada drew a walk in his first plate appearance and also lined out hard to center field in his last. The rookie second baseman went 0-for-2 as the White Sox lost 9-1 to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“It was fun to watch him come in,” pitcher Carlos Rodon said. “I saw him in Triple-A for a while, he’s a great talent. It’s good to have some good defense. That first at-bat was obviously really good. Fought it back to 3-2, got that walk. Two good swings.”

“It was cool. It got very loud when he came up to the plate, as we expected. That was fun to watch.”

The hype and energy surrounding the arrival of baseball’s top prospect was easy to detect.

The amount of media members on hand to document Moncada’s first game was akin to an Opening Day crowd. Every camera was aimed on Moncada, who flew in from Rochester, N.Y. earlier in the day to join the White Sox.

News of Moncada’s promotion at 11 p.m. Tuesday boosted the announced crowd of 24,907 by 5,000 fans, according to the team. Fans arrived early, some in Moncada White Sox No. 10 jerseys direct from China, while others brought Twinkies, the second baseman’s favorite snack food. Moncada spotted some of those bearing the sugary snacks when he stepped out of the home dugout and onto the field about 45 minutes before first pitch. Moncada, a former teammate of Jose Abreu’s in Cuba, received a loud ovation as he started to stretch.

“I was excited with the way the fans treated me and how they were cheering me,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “I was really happy in that at-bat and excited because all that atmosphere and the excitement in the ballpark.”

The rumble was even louder when Moncada stepped in for his first Major League plate appearance since he played for the Boston Red Sox last September. Though he quickly fell behind in the count 0-2 against Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda, Moncada never wavered. He took several closes pitches, fouled off two more, and drew a nine-pitch walk.

“He had some nice at-bats,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Obviously worked a walk. Hit two balls well. He looked very comfortable. Turned a nice double play. I think he didn’t look overwhelmed. I think he ended his first day here with us as well as you could have it be. I know he didn’t get any hits but I thought he had some pretty good at-bats.”

Moncada’s second trip resulted in a groundout to first base. He fell behind 0-2 once again before working the count even. Moncada then ripped an 88-mph from Maeda down the right-field line only to have it go foul by several feet before grounding out on the next pitch.

Moncada got ahead 2-0 in the count in his final plate appearance as he faced reliever Ross Strippling. He produced an easy, fluid swing on the 2-0 pitch and ripped a 93-mph fastball for a line drive but it found the glove of center fielder Joc Pederson. The ball exited Moncada’s bat at 102.5 mph, which normally results in a hit 62.5 percent of the time, according to baseballsavant.com.

“I felt good,” Moncada said. “I think that I executed my plan. I didn't get any hits but I hit the ball hard and I executed my plan.”

“I made my debut last year but this one was special, it had kind of the same feeling for me.”