Kudos to Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura for at least trying to keep a secret that never seemed to be hidden in the first place.
At this point, it seems clear that Chris Sale eventually will be named the White Sox’s Opening Day starter April 1 at U.S. Cellular Field against the Kansas City Royals. Reports out of Arizona this week that Sale and the White Sox have started preliminary talks on a contract extension only confirm the value the club has put on the left-hander.
Sure it’s a bit of a risk to try and get into the manager’s head and figure out what he’s thinking, but all signs continue to point to Sale as the rotation’s lead dog. Not only has the rotation’s only other Opening Day candidate, Jake Peavy, endorsed Sale for the role, Sale himself is best lined up for the honor.
After Sale has his last scheduled outing of the spring, he would get an extra day of rest before starting the first game of the season. That fifth day of downtime is typical for guys in the rotation before making their first start.
There was no Cactus League game scheduled for the White Sox on Wednesday, but Sale stayed on track by pitching four innings (65 pitches) in a simulated game a back field against minor-league hitters.
Ventura’s decision to keep the Opening Day assignment a secret is an interesting one. It appears that he is dangling a carrot, albeit an invisible one, in front of his young pitcher and potential Cy Young Award candidate.
Sale’s face lit up when the idea of being the Opening Day starter was brought up early in the spring, so he knows it’s a possibility. Perhaps this is Ventura’s way of pushing his young pitcher toward earning his first Opening Day nod.
Down the road, there could be more benefit to Ventura’s plan. Believe it or not, spring training has its own dog days, right around the middle of March when the body feels ready to go and the calendar says there still is 2½ weeks before the season starts.
Dropping the Opening Day honor on Sale then could give him a burst of energy to power through the final days of preparation and have him riding high when the season starts.
Ventura might have been an infielder, who is only in his second season as a manager, but he seems to know what motivational buttons to push when it comes to the pitching staff. Of course, at his side is pitching coach Don Cooper, who has been around this block plenty of times in the past.
This far into the spring it could be borderline controversial not to give Sale the Opening Day spot. If somewhere deep inside Peavy was hoping for the assignment, as a veteran he would probably handle the disappointment just fine.
Sale might be willing to take the No. 2 spot, but internally he has to be hoping it happens. His early-spring statement seemed to be clear on that front.
“That would be crazy,” Sale said when he was asked about Opening Day. “I would be speechless if it came to that.”
Sale went on to endorse Peavy for the job, as a good teammate and a younger member of the roster should do.
It’s clear Sale would be flattered by the assignment, he deserves it and it’s only a matter of time before he officially gets it. Ventura just has to follow the announcement strategy by the book first.