KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chris Sale is happy and he shows it.
Not only did the White Sox announce on Wednesday that their two-time All Star is set to return to the rotation on Thursday but Sale believes that a very deliberate rehab process that was trying at times was worth it.
Sale, who skipped off the field after a light bullpen session on Tuesday, will return to the mound confident he’s healthy. In the year of Tommy John surgeries, Sale feels fortunate to have only missed a little more than a month with a left flexor muscle strain. He also likes how the White Sox allowed him to pace himself as he recovered from the injury — he has been on the disabled list since April 18 — instead of pushing.
“You look around the league, and it’s scary,” Sale said. “It’s very high, the (number of) pitchers who have gone down. That played a factor in this, in terms of not rushing back into it and becoming a bigger statistic.
“This was something that was very well thought out, very well planned, and we were just erring on the side of caution in terms of making sure when (Thursday) comes I’m 100 percent. Not just saying I’m 100 percent, but actually being 100 percent.”
Sale’s climb to full health hasn’t been as quick as the White Sox initially believed it would be. When he was placed on the DL on April 22, retroactive to April 18, the club thought he might only miss 15 days. But the White Sox weren’t about to rush the process with Sale, who only last spring signed a contract extension through 2017.
Sale began to play catch and long toss around the time he originally was eligible to come off the DL and didn’t throw off the mound until May 5. He has continued to progress over the past 16 days enough to where the White Sox feel comfortable starting him against the New York Yankees on Thursday.
Sale rejoined the team on Monday after he struck out 11 on 68 pitches on Friday at Triple-A Charlotte.
Before that, he threw a 60-pitch simulated game at home.
“You can tell the way he’s been going the last four or five days,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “You can hear it when you talk to him and once he got here to Kansas City. The way he was bouncing around, you had a pretty good idea he was feeling good. We’re excited to have him back, that’s for sure.”
Sale last pitched on April 17, when he held the Boston Red Sox to a run and a hit while striking out 10 over seven innings. Sale threw a career-high 127 pitches in that outing and reported feeling sore the next day.
The soreness persisted enough for Sale to request an MRI several days later in Detroit. The MRI showed no structural damage, but the White Sox decided to be deliberate and cautious with the lanky lefty.
Ventura knows his rotation will get a big boost from Sale’s return. Since he went on the DL, White Sox starters have combined to go 9-15 with a 6.45 ERA with an average of 5 1/3 innings per start.
Sale is 3-0 with a 2.30 ERA in four starts and has 29 strikeouts and only seven walks in 27 1/3 innings. While he isn’t on a strict pitch count, Ventura doesn’t expect Sale to throw 100 pitches.
Still, he’s glad to have Sale back.
“You’re getting a guy back that you know every time he goes out there you’ve got a pretty dang good shot to win,” Ventura said. “He’s proven that since he’s become a starter, he’s a valuable guy to go out there.”
Not that he needed it, but the rehab process gave Sale got yet another reminder just how much the organization values him. He credits general manager Rick Hahn for not rushing the ordeal.
Now, he just can’t wait to get going again.
“(Hahn) was very adamant about taking our time with this and not rushing into things, and I think that was something that was comforting to me because no one was looking at me saying, ‘Hey, let’s go. Where’s the hang-up here?’” Sale said. “Everybody involved was, ‘Hey, listen. Even if there’s the slightest bit, or even if there’s not, we’re still going to take our time with this and make sure we’re crossing our T's and dotting our I's.’
“I’m excited. It’s been a long time.”