As expected, Sale named Opening Day starter
Ventura confirms two-time All-Star lefty to begin season for second year in row
PHOENIX -- There was no official Spring Training announcement concerning Chris Sale as the White Sox Opening Day starter against the Twins on March 31, until manager Robin Ventura made the declaration on Monday morning at Camelback Ranch.
It evoked the same level of surprise as the breaking news that 5 o'clock comes after 4 o'clock, or that chocolate cake tastes great but isn't very healthy.
"Does that shock you?" said Ventura with a smile after confirming Sale to reporters.
"Let's be real," said John Danks, when asked about Sale and Opening Day before the announcement. "I've said it all along, he's one of the best pitchers in baseball and he's the ace of this staff and that's pretty much understood. We like our chances when he's out there."
Danks stands as a pretty authoritative expert when it comes to Opening Day, Sale and staff aces. He got the call in 2012 for Ventura's managerial debut in Texas, and Danks also is a good friend of both Sale and Mark Buehrle.
There was Buehrle at the top of the White Sox rotation before there was the lanky Sale with his funky delivery. As Danks has mentioned before, the raw stuff between the two is vastly different, with the decided edge going to Sale.
A great deal of similarities also exist between the southpaws.
"They are both very competitive, they both pour in strikes," said Danks of the Buehrle-Sale comparison. "More often than not, they are ahead in the count making the hitter hit their pitch. They go about it a different way in terms of stuff, but they are very similar in their style. They move the ball around. They keep the ball in the ballpark."
Buehrle carries an 186-142 record into his 15th big league season and just his third outside of Chicago. He has pitched at least 200 innings, made at least 30 starts and won in double-digits for all of his 13 years as a starter.
For part of the 2010 season and all of '11, Buehrle was able to mentor Sale as White Sox teammates. Those different styles didn't mean a pitcher two months out of Florida Gulf Coast University such as Sale couldn't learn a great deal about the overall pitching process as a willing and observant student.
"Just going about his business, pace of the game, being efficient, throwing strikes, that kind of stuff," said Sale of Buehrle's influence. "Watching how he went out there and worked his craft, that's kind of what I like to do -- throw strikes, and if they're going to get on, make them hit it.
"Work quick. Your defense is a lot better behind you when you're working quick and they're in and out."
Questions were bound to come up concerning Buehrle, considering a franchise record nine of the last 13 Opening Day White Sox starts belonged to him. Sale knows that Buehrle stands alone in franchise pitching lore, even if he topples that individual mark.
"Him and Paul [Konerko] are kind of two individual guys where I don't think there's going to be anything like them again, especially to this organization," Sale said. "You can rattle off 15 Opening Day starts in a row and he's still going to be in the books.
"He's one of the best. Unless you bring multiple championships back, I don't think anyone is going to take the reins from Buehrle."
Sale threw 42 of his 62 pitches for strikes against the Brewers on Monday, allowing two hits and fanning three. He focused on his slider during the last side session and was happy to get back on track after allowing six runs on six hits over 2 2/3 innings against the Padres.
This Saturday's night game against the Dodgers becomes Sale's next start, followed by a Minor League game on the March 20 team off-day and his final Cactus League appearance March 25 vs. the Rockies.
Then it's on to the Twins and U.S. Cellular Field on March 31 for the two-time All-Star, who struck out 226 over 214 1/3 innings last season and finished with a 3.07 ERA over 30 starts.
Ventura basically indicated last September, as his team finished off a 99-loss campaign, that the only thing certain about 2014 is that Sale would be the Opening Day starter. That point was reaffirmed Monday to nobody's surprise.
"As much as you sit here and say treat it like another start, it's the first one of the year and you are obviously going to be amped up for it and excited for it," said Sale, who struck out seven over 7 2/3 scoreless innings last April 1 in a 1-0 Opening Day win over the Royals. "You have to corral yourself and just pitch your game and do what you got to do. It's cool. It's exciting. I actually didn't know. But it's nice."
"I would say your first guy, your best guy, you always put out first," Ventura said. "Just what he has done in the past and what you expect him to do, he's the logical choice. He deserves it."