Sale, Sox look for victory vs. Rays

Sale, Sox look for victory vs. Rays
April 25, 2013, 11:00 am
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What to watch: Sox vs. Rays on CSN+

Gametime: 7:00 p.m., Comcast SportsNet Plus (coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with White Sox Pregame Live)

On the mound: Chris Sale (4.50 ERA, 24 H, 23 K, 6 BB, 4 HR) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (3.55 ERA, 19 H, 18 K, 6 BB, 4 HR)

Sale's numbers are skewed by one bad start (4 1/3 IP, 8 H, 8 ER, 2 HR vs. Cleveland April 13), and he's thrown at least seven innings and allowed no more than three runs in his three other starts. Despite some early consternation, Sale's average fastball velocity is right about where it was in 2012 (a few ticks over 91 miles per hour, per Fangraphs). If you're looking for a concern with Sale, look toward his slider -- it's been fairly ineffective in four games, at least compared to previous years, and he's throwing it about a 1 1/2 miles per hour slower than he did last year. 

Still, the overall package is hardly bad for Sale, and we're only four starts into the season so it's far too early for any long-term concern, so long as his fastball velocity doesn't drop.

Hellickson's been excellent in his last two starts. On April 15, he struck out nine in seven innings and allowed two runs on three hits against Boston, and on April 20 he threw seven shutout innings with six strikeouts against Oakland. 

Today's storyline: Pitcher's duel?

The White Sox and Rays feature two of the American League's worst offensive outfits right now, although Tampa Bay's lineup has shown a few signs of life in the last week or so. Still, by the stat wOBA, the two teams' offenses rank in the bottom third of baseball: Tampa Bay at No. 22, and the White Sox at No. 29, with Miami only featuring a worse lineup. 

With that in mind, two good pitchers on the mound and some cold temperatures, expect a tight game decided by a run or two Thursday night. 

The last word: Sale vs. the Rays

Sale made his final start of 2012 against Tampa Bay, allowing five runs on seven hits with three walks and seven strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings late last September. It was his worst start of the season, but the left-hander's best start of 2012 also came against the Rays.

On Memorial Day last May, Sale struck out 15 Rays hitters in 7 1/3 magnificent innings, allowing one run on three hits with two walks. Adam Dunn's two-run home run off Matt Moore gave the Sox all the offense they needed in a 2-1 win.

Sale's 15 strikeouts were the second-most ever recorded in a single game by a White Sox pitcher in franchise history, only topped by Jack Harshman's 16 strikeouts in 1954. Since 2000, a White Sox pitcher has struck out 13 or more batters six times, with Sale doing it twice last year. Edwin Jackson struck out 13 against the Rays in 2011's home opener, while Javier Vazquez did it twice (2006/2007) and Jose Contreras once in 2006.