GLENDALE, Ariz. – The newness of being a rookie and then a first-time starter has worn off, an All-Star Game appearance has been made and the rigors of pitching 192 innings have been endured.
All of that gives White Sox left-hander Chris Sale both a sense of calm and state of exuberance heading into the 2013 season.
I can’t wait, Sale said. After training this offseason and coming into spring training knowing how my body feels and having one more year of experience under my belt makes it exciting. I was talking to my agent and he was reminding me that this is my first year of doing the same thing as the last year. I’ve never really had two years of the same thing. It’s fun, it’s exciting and I’m ready to go.
Manager Robin Ventura named Sale his opening day starter over former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, the veteran leader of the staff. Sale had endorsed Peavy as the choice, and vice versa, before the decision was made.
That would be crazy. I would be speechless if it came to that, said Sale, who turns 24 today. But as I’ve said before if anyone deserves that, it’s Peavy. He’s the leader of the team and our pitching staff and he has the résumé to do it. We all have our faith and trust in him and he’s our guy.
Peavy has a different take on the subject.
Chris is the best pitcher on the team, said Peavy, who was 11-12 with a 3.37 ERA last season. Your best guy goes opening day.
A first-round draft pick out of Florida Gulf Coast in 2010, Sale pitched only 10 1/3 innings in the minors before joining the Sox to make 21 relief appearances that season. He pitched out of the bullpen his first full year in the majors in 2011 before making the big step to full-time starter last season.
With one minor glitch, the transition was a huge success. Sale finished sixth in Cy Young Award voting after going 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA. When he spoke up about a tender elbow, the Sox acted swiftly by moving him to the bullpen. Sale talked his way back to the rotation, was given occasional extra rest and made it to the finish line.
His ERA was 4.03 in the second half of the season after posting a 2.19 ERA in the first.
I felt like I learned a lot last year, not just about myself but about baseball and the game in general, Sale said. I know how my body feels and I have a better feel for situations and different things that come up during ballgames. It’s a learning experience.
Sale fell one start short of 30 and eight innings shy of 200, both reasonable goals for his second season as a starter. Because of his frame, delivery and the minor elbow issue last season, Sale is viewed as a potential candidate to break down. But he has been vigilant about sticking to his strength and flexibility program, and has emphasized flexibility over strength in his offseason conditioning routine.
He shrugs off suggestions he’s not built for the long haul.
I don’t think about going out there and blowing my arm up or anything like that, Sale said. Obviously it’s a long season and you’re throwing a lot. You have to make sure everything is intact and moving right. Pay attention to your body and know what’s going on and how it feels on a given day and know when enough is enough and when you can throw some more.
Sale took an extra three weeks to a month off from his normal offseason throwing routine to refresh his arm. He also gained 15 pounds, though it’s not that noticeable on his 6-foot-6 frame.
I felt strong at the beginning of last year and through the season and I kind of fell off at the end, he said. That’s my focus, toward the back end of the season. You want to get off on the right foot but everybody knows it’s not how you start but how you finish and that’s the most important part of this game, finishing strong. And that’s what I plan to do.