CHICAGO -- A continuously refined changeup clearly improves Chris Sale's standing as a starting pitcher, although it's already a fairly lofty perch for the American League ERA leader and the owner of the third-lowest opponents' average against entering Saturday's start.
But the notion that the changeup is a new pitch to Sale is inaccurate. It just was temporarily shelved when he worked in relief during the past two years.
"That was his best pitch when we saw him as an amateur," said White Sox director of amateur scouting Doug Laumann of the changeup for Sale, who was the 13th pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. "His changeup got better each time. It was his second-best pitch."
"I didn't even have a slider in college," said Sale with a laugh. "So that changeup is something we've been working on more than any other pitch in my repertoire."
Sale's work takes place with pitching coach Don Cooper and bullpen coach Juan Nieves between starts, and he employed that changeup on 23 pitches during his complete-game effort against the Mariners on Sunday. He recorded one out with the changeup, but just one changeup was put in play safely.
A well-located fastball and a sharp-breaking slider are still Sale's top two pitches. But the 23-year-old understands the importance of the changeup to his overall well-being as a rotation member.
"Having a third pitch is so big now," said Sale, who still touches 94 or 95 mph with his fastball but doesn't get to 97 or 98 as he would as a reliever. "You can't go out there as a starter and just have two pitches.
"It's something I've been trying to build on and get better. I want to have a third pitch to throw to help me get deeper in games."
Setback for Morel keeps Hudson at third
CHICAGO -- Friday's update concerning Brent Morel was not anything that could be construed as positive news.
Morel returned from his Minor League rehab assignment at Triple-A Charlotte after aggravating his lumbar back strain during Thursday night's game in Toledo. Morel took himself out of the game after just one at-bat.
"I'm pretty sure he's on his way here today or tomorrow to get checked out," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "There's something else going on there, so it's a setback."
Without Morel, the White Sox will rely on Orlando Hudson, Brent Lillibridge and Eduardo Escobar to anchor third base, with none of them having previously played that spot as their featured position. But Ventura expressed confidence in what he has at third, and didn't plan to push general manager Ken Williams to acquire a replacement.
"It has to be the right fit and it has to be the right person for him to be able to do that," said Ventura of Williams making a deal. "We talk about different things all the time, not necessarily subtracting or adding players, but there's conversation going on all the time.
"It's one of the constants of being in this position for me and being at this level with these guys. Everybody is evaluated. Ideas are thrown around."
The White Sox have a 10-4 record in the games started by Hudson at third base. Hudson hasn't exactly performed with Gold Glove consistency at this new defensive spot, and has given himself tough grades through the learning process.
"I'm scuffling," Hudson said. "But our manager is one of the best third baseman to play the game. He's trying to get me out of my own head defensively. That's the biggest thing. Other than that, I'm trying to catch it and get over to first base. It hasn't been pretty lately but hopefully it gets a little better soon."
"There are different things that are happening that he's not used to," said Ventura of Hudson, who had never played third base at the big league level before this season. "It's a learning process and we're trying to bring him up to speed as fast as you can. You can only teach so much and some of it has to be the experience of being out there and doing it. I expect him to be better now that he's gone through that."
Contreras proud of Alexei's accomplishments
CHICAGO -- Jose Contreras returned to Chicago on Friday to join White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf in presenting Alexei Ramirez with his replacement gold medal, after the one Ramirez won as part of the Cuban baseball team at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece, disappeared.Contreras is like a big brother or even father figure to Ramirez, and offers up nothing but high praise regarding the accomplishments on and off the field of his friend and former teammate.
"It gives me a great sense of pride seeing Alexei when he runs out on the field. It gives me great pride seeing any Cuban player succeed in Major League Baseball," said Contreras, through translator and White Sox director of public relations Lou Hernandez. "But more so Alexei.
"We are from the same town. I know his family. He's a good son. He's a good father. He's a good husband. I'm also proud to see how well Dayan [Viciedo] has done and how well Dayan has developed. But more than anything, seeing Alexei out there and how he has developed into the player and person he has become, it really gives me a great sense of pride."
Third to first
The White Sox have been in first place for 16 days this season, including every day since May 29.
Orlando Hudson might have won over a few more White Sox fans with his pregame commentary about this 2005 World Series rematch between the White Sox and Astros.
"It was a great World Series and a lot of fun for them to bring a championship to this great city," Hudson said. "It kind of made the people on the North Side feel a little bad, but it is what it is." Jordan Danks would have preferred to get his first career hit in a victory but was still savoring the eighth-inning single during Friday's 8-3 loss to the Astros.
"Absolutely," a smiling Danks said. "I figure it's got to come sometime and I was just happy it came early."
Alex Rios is hitting .405 with three doubles, two homers and seven RBIs over his last nine games.