5/16/2014 9:40 P.M. ET
Strong start unlikely to speed Sale's return
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Chris Sale may still not be an active member of the White Sox when he is next scheduled to pitch next Wednesday. But based on the left-hander's results during his first injury rehab start Friday for Triple-A Charlotte, Sale is pretty darn close to ready.
Sale fanned 11 Durham hitters over four innings and 68 pitches, allowing Robby Price's single and two walks to Jerry Sands in the White Sox ace's first start at any level since April 17. He has been on the disabled list retroactive to April 18 with a flexor muscle strain in his left arm.
The White Sox have been cautious since the beginning of this malady in regard to one of their franchise cornerstones. So Sale's dominant showing Friday might not be quite enough for an immediate ticket back.
"You don't want to rush him," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said before the White Sox game in Houston and before Sale's start. "I'm sure he'll be excited about going out there and pitching tonight. Just bring him back at a pace where he's ready to go out and compete and help us win for a long time.
"We'll see him throw tonight, and then make an adjustment after that and talk to him and see how he's doing. That's always going to be the first thing that we base a decision on and go from there. It's more his health and how he's feeling, even though he said he felt great when he left. You never know."
One common school of thought was that Sale would make two Minor League rehab starts and return on May 25 at home against the Yankees, one day after Chris Sale Bobblehead Day, if all went well. The postponement of Sale's originally scheduled start from Thursday would move his big league return to May 26 against the Indians at home if he made a second Minor League rehab start Wednesday.
The White Sox could forgo a second rehab start for a side session with the team, while giving him a few extra days before starting him next weekend against the Yankees. But they probably want to see Sale get his pitch count a little higher than 68, if this rehab assignment is to be viewed as a modified Spring Training, although White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper mentioned Friday that Sale would be watched closely in his first few big league starts upon returning.
Of course, the next big tell-tale sign for Sale is how he responds Saturday following Friday's stellar performance.
"We will get him back, that's the good news," Cooper said before Sale's start. "That's kind of right around the corner, maybe 10 days from now.
"Who knows? I can't wait to see what happens tonight. We want Chris here. Chris wants to be here, but we're not going to bring Chris here at the risk of finishing what we started, which is the rehab process to get him back going, and do that right. That won't happen until we're sure that's right. That's next."
Single off-day proves enough rest for Abreu
HOUSTON -- Thursday's off-day for the White Sox allowed Jose Abreu time to fully rest his sore left ankle. The respite also gave manager Robin Ventura a chance to change his mind.
Ventura had intended to give Abreu Friday off, presenting the slugger with a two-day break. But Abreu did not want to sit, and with Abreu feeling better, Ventura chose to once again start him at designated hitter.
"That's the good news when we have an off-day," Ventura said. "You can change your mind. He felt he's getting better and he doesn't want to sit. And he's a pretty good hitter. That helps you make your decision."
"Being completely off worked out pretty good," Abreu said through interpreter and White Sox manager of cultural development Lino Diaz. "We did talk about maybe having a day off, but I don't really like to have many days off unless it's completely necessary. Then you get out of your rhythm and your routine."
Abreu entered Friday's action leading the Majors with 15 homers, 27 extra-base hits, 103 total bases and an 11.07 at-bats/homer ratio. He also ranked second with 41 RBIs and a .620 slugging percentage.
The White Sox have cut back some of Abreu's early pregame work to facilitate greater health for the left ankle. Although Abreu follows a strict daily routine that has helped produce this rookie success, he does not seem bothered by the change.
"You have to understand if something is bothering you physically, you have to take care of that and adjust your routine," Abreu said. "At the same time, you have to be mentally strong and tough to keep your confidence and go on. You are doing a little bit less than before."
Belisario sees turnaround after rough outing
HOUSTON -- If not for one miserable outing in Colorado, Ronald Belisario's overall body of work for the White Sox might have a little bit more appreciation outside Chicago. He allowed five runs over one-third of an inning on April 9 before leaving with back stiffness, but entering Friday he had since given up a combined five runs (four earned) over 13 appearances.
Belisario had not yielded an earned run in his past 10 appearances entering Friday's series opener against the Astros, and he had retired 34 of his past 39 batters faced, including 14 straight from April 21-29. Opponents were hitting .106 (5-for-47) since April 20.
"He's been very, very good for us, and everybody has," White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. "It makes me think about not having them in Spring Training, all of them, them getting on track, that would include all of the guys that weren't there in the beginning as well as Scott Downs, who is getting on track more and more also."
In the category of ground-ball outs vs. those made in the air, Belisario leads the White Sox with a 2.50 ratio. That attribute will come in handy when U.S. Cellular Field plays smaller during the warmer summer months.
"All of our guys get ground balls, him the most, which is a great asset for guys coming in the game, with runners on certainly and also to keep the ball in the park," Cooper said. "I haven't seen a ground ball get out of the park yet.
"For our park, that profiles well. But there's many, many good hitting parks, so that profiles well anywhere."
Postponement pushes back Eaton's return
HOUSTON -- The postponement of Thursday's contest between Triple-A Charlotte and Durham did more than mess with Chris Sale's injury rehab pitching schedule. Adam Eaton, the White Sox center fielder and leadoff man, was originally expected back Sunday in Houston after testing his right hamstring with the Knights.
Manager Robin Ventura now looks for Eaton to rejoin the team Monday in Kansas City, beginning the third and final leg of this nine-game road stretch.
"It would be a lot to have him play Saturday and then fly in here and play and then fly right out after the game," Ventura said of Eaton, who has been on the disabled list since May 3. "I would rather have him just fly to Kansas City Sunday and then be ready to go on Monday instead of having him fly all over the place and try to squeeze in. … Maybe he makes it, maybe he doesn't. Monday is a better shot of when he'll come off."
Eaton was 2-for-4 with a stolen base Friday for Charlotte.
Third to first
• Alexei Ramirez needs just two games played to move into fourth place all-time in games for White Sox shortstops. Ramirez sits at 834, including Friday, while Chico Carrasquel checks in at 835. Luke Appling (2,218), Ozzie Guillen (1,724) and Luis Aparicio (1,508) top that list.
• Left-handed hitters are just 5-for 35 this season against right-handed reliever Daniel Webb and 11-for-58 (.190) in his career. Opponents are 4-for-34 (.118) with 16 strikeouts with two strikes against Webb in 2014.