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03/17/11 9:21 PM ET

Class continues for Sale, who seeks command

Sox lefty improves in outing, but Cooper spots location issues

PHOENIX -- One year ago, Chris Sale spent a typical St. Patrick's Day for a college athlete.

"Either had a game, or practice, or classes," said Sale, enrolled at the time in Florida Gulf Coast University.

The 21-year-old left-hander now will return to school, enrolling in the Don Cooper Pitching College. Class will be in session on Saturday, when Prof. Cooper will attempt to help correct the command issues that continued to bug Sale on Thursday.

He hurled a scoreless seventh inning in the White Sox split-squad 4-0 Cactus League loss here to Milwaukee, allowing two hits and a walk but escaping when first baseman Adam Dunn grabbed Wil Nieves' one-out liner and turned it into an inning-ending double play.

And as Sale said afterwards, "Any time you go out there and get three outs and don't give up any runs, you've got to be happy."

Not so fast, Cooper countered a few minutes later.

"He's still having location problems. Not throwing the fastball away from left-handers and getting it in to right-handers, and the breaking ball is not getting in enough," Cooper said. "He's leaving a few too many pitches out over the plate.

"But he's got the day off, then we'll work on it."

Sale will lay low on Friday, then throw the "educational" bullpen session on Saturday.

"There's still some things we need to work on," Sale acknowledged, adding, "It will be an exciting week, but I hope this was the start of getting out of the funk I've been in.

"A couple of those balls were hit pretty good, on first-pitch fastballs. I could've done without getting the bases loaded, but I think we took another step forward, something to build on the next time."

Thursday's line certainly was cleaner than Monday's against the Padres, who had rocked him for four hits and three runs in his one inning.

That loud outing, or Thursday's unimpressive survival, has not blotted Sale out of the White Sox closer picture. The poise, stuff and ceiling of last June's No. 1 Draft pick are so exciting, he remains in a match race with another lefty, Matt Thornton.

"Sure, he's in there," said Cooper, serving a reminder that Sale is in his first big league camp, a trying period even after the instant success he enjoyed late last season. "There's a first time for everybody. Expectations for him are so high, but we have to keep paying attention to details.

"We have to make sure to work consistently on all his pitches."

In a lefty mano-a-lefty mano duel, Thornton again got the best of it on Thursday. He followed Sale's rocky zero with his own clean zero, retiring all three men he faced in the eighth.

Both applicants have had six outings. In 7 1/3 innings, Sale has allowed 12 hits and six runs, and Thursday's walk was his first, compared to nine strikeouts. In his six innings, Thornton has allowed seven hits and two runs, also with one walk and with five strikeouts.

One intriguing sidebar to the Sale-Thornton throw-down is that whoever emerges with the hammer will most likely be the Majors' only left-handed closer. With two weeks to go until Opening Day, none of the other 29 big league clubs has a southpaw at the end of its bullpen -- although veteran Brian Fuentes might begin the season as at least Oakland's temporary closer if Andrew Bailey's forearm strain persists.

As for who will emerge as the South Siders' guy ... Cooper said there is only one way to know for sure:

"That first day in Cleveland ... let's hope we're up going to the ninth inning, and let's see who comes out of the bullpen."

Tom Singer is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow @Tom_Singer on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.