Time to unleash ace in the hole

CHICAGO -- There is more than just the obvious when it comes to the trust the Chicago White Sox now have in Chris Sale.

Sure the 24-year-old left-hander will get his first Opening Day start on Monday, heading straight to the top of the rotation after just one full season as a major league starter.

What the White Sox will also do is the let Sale run free this year as they release him from the restraints he was under a year ago.

In 2012, Sale delivered 192 innings and while nobody is saying it, it was probably a little more than the White Sox were comfortable with. Sale proved hard to hold back last year as he burst onto the scene in fine fashion and was in the Cy Young Award talk until the final month.

He went 17-8 with a 3.06 ERA and as Jake Peavy said this spring, he showed he is the team’s best starting pitcher. Manager Robin Ventura was asked Sunday if Sale was now free to hit the 200-inning mark and beyond.

“He’s not going to hit it tomorrow,” Ventura joked. “I think at some point you’re going to have to do that for him. Again, we’re going to go by how he feels, just like every other guy. I don’t think we have that same feeling we had last year. I know I don’t, as far as his innings and how he’s doing. You treat him as how he’s doing and adjust from there. He’s like everyone else.”

Expectations are high that Sale becomes a true staff ace along the lines of a Clayton Kershaw with the Dodgers, Jered Weaver with the Angels, David Price with the Rays and Justin Verlander with the Tigers. He doesn’t even have to win the Cy Young Award this year to join that class, just show he can be dependable on the 30-plus days he takes the mound.

“I feel like I’ve got myself to a pretty good place right now,” Sale said. “I’m just kind of looking at this as any other game. There’s a little bit of hype around it being as it's the first one and it’s Opening Day. It still counts as one. If I go out there and win 10-0, it’s still one in the left column and visa versa to one loss. It’s just another game and go after it like it is.”

Not that Sale needed any extra motivation, but watching his alma mater advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, he got one anyway. Florida Gulf Coast was eliminated by Florida on Friday.

Although the White Sox are less of an underdog than Florida Gulf Coast, Sale likened the teams anyway.

“Nobody expected them to win anything,” Sale said. “They didn’t have a big bandwagon or fan base to start with and if you believe in yourself, that can take you a long way. We all believe in ourselves and each other and we are going to get this thing going and get it going the right way.”

He clearly seemed giddy with his Opening Day assignment still more than 24-hours away. Calming breathing techniques might come in as handy as a good strategy against the Kansas City Royals in the 3:05 p.m. start Monday.

“It’s exciting,” Sale admitted. “I was very excited for it. It’s kind of nerve-wracking at times because obviously with everything going on all this excitement and hoopla. But I’m very proud and very honored to be the guy to start Opening Day and to get the first one out there and bring it back as a win.”