ARLINGTON, Texas -- It’s not as if he didn’t throw 127 pitches on Thursday.
But Chris Sale agrees he probably felt better on Friday afternoon than he might have in years past after a start like Thursday’s. Sale allowed a run and a hit and struck out 10 while throwing a career-high 127 pitches over seven innings against the Boston Red Sox.
But part of the reason Sale feels OK is because of the other career-high total he posted Thursday -- he threw 45 changeups.
That figure isn’t an outlier. Through four starts this season, Sale has relied on the changeup much more than he ever has. Part of it is longevity and keeping his arm in shape instead of relying on the slider.
But part of it is comfort, Sale said.
“I still feel like I pitched yesterday,” Sale said with a laugh. “The change has always been my pitch. Say I throw a bad slider and then I airmail my fastball, the changeup is the pitch that kind of gets my mechanics back into sync. It’s because … I have to stay back, get over my front side, get extension and find my release point for that pitch to be there. And for some reason that’s the pitch, even back in college, that’s the pitch that has got me back on track if I’m throwing balls all over the place. Even if it’s a ball, it still gets me back into the swing of things.”
Sale’s 45 changeups accounted for 35.4 percent of his pitches.
So far, 31.9 percent of his pitches this season have been changeups, per brooksbaseball.net. Last season, 19.2 percent were changeups and in 2012 it was 14.7 percent.
Sale said he uses the changeup more often now than in the past because he faces more right-handed hitters. But catcher Tyler Flowers said the conversation in spring training revolved around more liberal use of the pitch because it will help him get through games and because the two-time All-Star pitcher has confidence in the changeup.
Flowers said it’s not that Sale can paint corners with his change but he generally hits spots. And then there’s the nearly 10-mph variance between it and his fastball.
So no matter who’s standing in, Flowers has no problem calling for the offspeed pitch.
“Early, late, left, right, it really doesn’t really matter for him, I’d trust that pitch at any time out of his hand,” Flowers said. “He’s definitely gaining a lot of confidence in it. He definitely does. At any time, in any situation he can throw that pitch.”
Sale has achieved results with the changeup too.
While his slider is still his most effective pitch this season -- hitters have a .063 average against it -- they have a .177 average against his changeup.
The White Sox see this as another step in Sale’s development. Two seasons ago, he threw his slider 26.5 percent of the time.
But after Sale learned to better manage himself in 2013, when he completed 214 1/3 innings, the White Sox trust he’s better prepared to pitch deeper into games.
“Two years ago, we wouldn’t have had him in there,” manager Robin Ventura said. “But he’s not airing it out completely. He goes through innings where you can see the efficiency of velocity and things like that. Trying to get through innings and saving it for if there’s guys on base. He’s come a long way maturing how to get through nine innings.”
Sale, who is 3-0 with a 2.30 ERA through four starts, plans to continue using his changeup until he the league adjusts.
“I still throw my slider to keep them honest, but I think I’ve worked on my changeup a lot and have a lot better feel,” Sale said. “I think it has a little more depth than it has in the past. It’s something we’re going to keep using until we have to change it up a little bit.”