01/20/11 6:00 PM EST
Sale's pitch: Hurler unfazed by uncertainty
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
But the question for manager Ozzie Guillen and his staff to answer over the next two months concerning Chris Sale, the rookie phenom employing his phone skills, is whether the team will be making its call for him as a closer, as a setup man or every fifth day as a starter. Holding the same unaffected outlook as he did at the end of the 2010 season, Sale doesn't seem the least bit bothered by the uncertainty.
"To be totally honest, to me it doesn't really matter," Sale said. "I just want to pitch. I've played baseball my entire life, and it doesn't matter whether it's starting, middle, long or closing."
Here's the much talked about formula eventually to be turned into a defined role for Sale.
Jake Peavy currently is ahead of schedule in his rehab program from a season-ending detached latissimus dorsi muscle in his right posterior shoulder. With Peavy's return for Opening Day still uncertain, Guillen already is operating under Plan B -- meaning without Peavy at the outset.
Under that plan, Sale could step into the starting rotation for as long as Peavy is out and then return to the bullpen. Pitching coach Don Cooper has spoken out against that split responsibility for Sale since late October.
So, Tony Pena could have a shot at filling in the fifth-starter's spot, according to Guillen, who doesn't seem worried about finding a short-term replacement. That turn to Pena would leave Sale in a bullpen featuring three southpaws and three right-handers. Then, the White Sox would have to decide whether to use Sale as a closer or give veteran Matt Thornton the first chance to take the job.
Although Guillen couldn't provide any clarity on Sale's immediate future, he did admit that breaking camp with a "closer by committee" is not a routine he wants to follow.
"That's a good thing for the pitcher, knowing what [his] position is going to be," Guillen said. "I think that's one thing we're looking for and I hope we do.
"You look around and Matt Thornton is the guy with experience. The guy was there before. You look at Sale and we don't know. We got to wait to see if Peavy is ready and see if we use Sale or somebody else. I got to wait for that. But pitching, Cooper knows about that and [general manager] Kenny [Williams] has an idea and I feel comfortable either way.
"Having Sale in the bullpen is a plus," Guillen said. "That depends on Peavy and who's going to cover early in the season."
Sale not only was the lone player from the 2010 First-Year Player Draft to reach the Majors but he excelled upon arriving. He finished 4-for-4 in save opportunities, posting a 1.93 ERA and fanning 32 over 23 1/3 innings.
As far as making the in-season change from starter to reliever, Sale feels as if he already conquered that experience in 2010.
"I was a starter in college and when the White Sox signed me, they put me in the 'pen," said Sale, who produced an 11-0 record in 15 starts for Florida Gulf Coast College while fanning 146 over 103 innings, before moving on to 11 Minor League relief appearances at Class A Winston-Salem and Triple-A Charlotte. "It was something to adapt to but not that big of a transition.
"Last year was unbelievable for me because I got experience pitching in the big leagues against these guys. It will be a help if I go back to the bullpen because Thornton and Sergio [Santos] are there, and they can help me out. I did it last year so i kind of know the basics. It's just doing it a whole year. Instead of 23 appearances, it will be 60 appearances."
Nothing is certain for Sale as of Jan. 20, aside from the fact that he probably won't have to contact anymore season ticket holders in the near future. He is preparing this offseason as a starter but still could end up somewhere in the world of relief.
"Coop said, 'You are eventually going to be a starter, whether it's this year or next or whenever. Long term we want you to be a starter,'" Sale said. "I'm trying not to make too much of it. Whatever they want me to do, I will give it 100 percent and give everything I have."