CHICAGO -- Just before the ninth inning on Sunday, pitcher Chris Sale approached manager Robin Ventura and asked if he could return to the mound.
“Yeah, but you’ve got to be efficient though,” Sale recalled Ventura telling him.
The perfectionist in Sale acknowledged he wasn’t as efficient in the ninth as he would have liked to be -- Ventura said Sale was another baserunner away from a call to the bullpen -- but he was able to finish what he started in a 4-2 White Sox win for the left-hander’s first complete game of his young career.
For all the talk about monitoring his pitch count and having him cut back on his go-to pitch, the slider, Sale’s evolution into one of the game’s most dominant pitchers through the early stages of the regular season took another step on Sunday.
Hours after he was named the American League Pitcher of the Month and six days removed from a 15-strikeout performance, Sale put forth another fine display of pitching to get the White Sox back on track. The left-hander struck out eight and walked two. He gave up a two-run home run in the fourth and didn’t allow a hit after the fifth.
“Efficient” was the buzzword afterward in the White Sox clubhouse, and it pertained not only to Sale’s most recent outing but also to his overall development.
“Going from where he was last year and coming back to starting and working his way through that, he’s become more efficient,” Ventura said. “I think that’s what’s going to make him one of the elite pitchers. It’s one thing to throw hard and have nasty stuff. It’s another thing to be efficient with the pitches that he throws, and he’s getting much better with that.”
Of Sale’s 119 pitches on Sunday, 81 were for strikes.
“Fastballs for strikes early, breaking balls have been there pretty much every outing for him, the changeup’s been an effective pitch for him as well,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “You combine that with some location and he’s pretty tough.”
Opposing hitters have struggled against Sale all season. Sale continues to lead the American League with a 2.30 ERA and is coming off a May in which he had a league-best 1.71 ERA while compiling 35 strikeouts and holding opposing hitters to a .181 average in six appearances.
Sale said he didn’t know about the Pitcher of the Month award, which went to teammate Jake Peavy in April, until a reporter told him after the game.
“Collectively, I’m just feeding off of guys, looking for guidance and things that everyone has been telling me,” Sale said about his current groove. “The work I’ve been putting in, I’m glad it’s paying off. I’ve been very fortunate with run support and some great defense behind me. The way that A.J. [Pierzynski] and Flow call games has just been great. Today (Flowers) really carried me through that game and it was a lot of fun to play.”
It seems to be just as fun to manage for Ventura, who prior to the game half-jokingly said that he hoped he wouldn’t need to go to his bullpen a day after the team’s nine-game win streak came to an end in a game that called for nine different pitchers.
Ventura said the club will continue to monitor Sale’s innings but added that, “I’m not going to limit him now just to forsee saving him for later. We’ll let him pitch and see how he’s doing.”
Asked if Sale reminds him of another pitcher from another era, Ventura couldn’t point to anyone in particular. He brushed off comparisons to Randy Johnson, reasoning that Sale has a different arm angle than Johnson. Ventura added, “(Sale) kind of has his own thing. The way he throws, his slider and everything, it’s unique to him.”
And it’s only a small part of what’s made Sale efficient.