Injury briefly slows but doesn't stop Sale
White Sox lefty has been on a strong run since his April 17 start vs. Boston
CHICAGO -- Say this about life with the White Sox Chris Sale. It is never dull, at least not for long.
He has put together one of the wildest stretches of pitching in Major League history over the last 41 days, dominating hitters before, after and during an extended stint on the disabled list, and he's done it with no chance to settle into a rhythm.
That's just how he rolls.
On Tuesday night, rain showers that wouldn't go away ended the 25-year-old lefty's night after three no-hit innings against the Indians, who did not mind seeing him replaced by rookie Scott Carroll.
Sale had killed time in the clubhouse during a 41-minute delay before the game began, but there was no way manager Robin Ventura was going to let him go back out to protect a 1-0 lead after a one-hour, 58-minute delay following the third inning.
As much as any player on a Major League roster, Sale is The Franchise for the White Sox. He comes with one of the game's best arms and team-friendly contracts and continues his ascension while others decline or get hurt. His killer changeup gives him a three-pitch assortment worthy of Clayton Kershaw, who he could face in his next start.
Both Sale and the Red Sox's Jon Lester took no-hitters into the sixth inning on April 17 at U.S. Cellular Field, and nothing has been normal about Sale's season since that night. He threw 127 pitches in that game and wound up on the DL with soreness in his elbow. The White Sox proceeded cautiously in his rehab, but he pitched so well in a rehab stint for Triple-A Charlotte (11 strikeouts, one hit in four innings) that the Sox shelved thoughts of a second dry run.
Instead, he took a perfect game into the sixth inning against the Yankees on May 22, before a Zoilo Almonte single and a tight pitch limit got him. He threw 86 pitches in that game, which when combined with the Red Sox start made him the only American League pitcher since 1900 to give up one hit and register 10-plus strikeouts in consecutive starts, and probably wouldn't have been allowed to go beyond 100 on Tuesday.
The rain-shortened outing left him with this pitching line for his last four starts (including the game against Durham, the Rays' Triple-A team): 20 innings, three hits, one run (on the Xander Bogaerts home run that broke up the no-hit bid against Boston), six walks and 35 strikeouts.
During this stretch, his opponents' batting average has dropped like a debit card balance on a Disney vacation. It was .205 before the start against the Red Sox, .168 after that start, .149 after the start against the Yankees and now is down to .138.
How great is it going to be to see him face Yasiel Puig?
Who knows how long this run he is on will go on?
An All-Star in both of his previous seasons as a starter, Sale is a known quantity at this point. But the skinny kid from Lakeland, Fla., has barely scratched the star power that comes with his combination of talent and off-the-charts makeup.
Tim Wilken, the former Blue Jays scouting director now with the Cubs, tells a great story about Sale.
He was in his junior season at Florida Gulf Coast University, tabbed as a certain first-round talent. But no one knew quite how high he would go, which drew scores of scouts to a May game against East Tennessee State. It was 90 degrees, and Sale was sick to his stomach.
"I counted four times that he came off the mound and threw up between innings,'' Wilken said "His face was white, like a sheet of paper. He looked like he was going to die sitting on the bench. But every time he went back to the mound, took the ball and threw strikes, quality strikes. You knew there was a lot going on with this kid, but it wasn't getting to him. Impressive. Very impressive.''
Sale's showing that day no doubt played a role in the White Sox selecting him with the 13th pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, which earned him a $1,686,000 bonus. He says he had eaten a bad cheeseburger the day before but admits he was stressed because of bigger issues.
His girlfriend, who is now his wife, had delivered their son, Rylan, less than a week earlier. He was running on fumes from fatherhood and finals and carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
"Obviously, I had a case of nerves,'' Sale told me in the spring of 2011. "There was a little bit of fear. I was a little nervous about being a dad. I'd never done that. I was excited, but I was nervous and I had some fear. I had a lot of fear.''
At an age when most of us are still kids, Sale had been given a life lesson in responsibility.
"I had no choice but to do well,'' Sale said. "Two other people were depending on me. … Sometimes people talk about girlfriends and things like that as distractions and say, 'Don't bring what's happening off the field to the field.' For me, it was good to bring it to the field.''
There are times when Sale lets himself be a kid. He came out of the clubhouse early Tuesday afternoon with a remote-controlled car that he whipped around on the dirt. He has a blast singing at some karaoke bars. But when it's time to get to work, to take care of his family, you don't want to be standing at the plate with a bat in your hand.
That's never been more true than it is now.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.