CHICAGO -- Chris Sale has done nothing this season to dispel the notion that he is a young starting pitcher worth building a team around.
Unlike a season ago, the 24-year-old left-hander is showing that he can be a dominating pitcher into September while crossing impressive milestones in the process.
During the Chicago White Sox’s victory Monday over the Detroit Tigers, his third in four starts against the Tigers this season, Sale crossed the 200-strikeout mark, becoming the quickest to do it in franchise history by innings pitched and appearances. Wilbur Wood and Gary Peters are the only other left-handers in franchise history to strike out 200 batters in a season.
Yet for all his impressive numbers, in a season that has been void of them across the team, finishing strong remains his biggest priority.
“I put a lot of emphasis on that,” Sale said. “That’s something that kind of bugged me last year. I was there for the first half to help this team and sputtered late and, as I said before, just kind of limped across the finish line. It’s something that [pitching coach Don Cooper] and I talked about since the offseason, even the last game of the season. It’s sprinting across the finish line this year trying to finish up strong.”
Beating the Cy Young Award favorite in September isn’t a bad thing to have on a resume either. The White Sox prevented Tigers starter Max Scherzer from winning his 20th game of the season, as the right-hander lasted just four innings for his shortest outing of the season. Sale improved to 11-12.
Sale said he normally doesn’t put any emphasis on the opposing starter, but he couldn’t deny it Monday.
“He’s an ace,” team captain Paul Konerko said of Sale. “He’s on a short list with a couple other guys out there.”
Scherzer might be headed toward Cy Young glory, but it’s Sale who actually has a lower ERA at 2.90 to 3.01. Sale is at 195 2/3 innings this season, while Scherzer has 194 1/3. The Tigers right-hander has 215 strikeouts to Sale’s 207.
“This is as well as I have seen him pitch this year as far as feeling at ease, throwing all of his pitches at any time,” Sox manager Robin Ventura said of Sale. “I think you can see his mannerisms on the mound, too. He doesn’t let his emotions get in the way.
“It was nice, also, to get him some runs. Just the way he’s pitched lately it’s just the progression of somebody going into the second year as a starter. With the stuff he has, he’s able to harness it and he looks great.”
And Sale also showed he can have a little fun out there. After Miguel Cabrera was ejected in the first inning for arguing with home-plate umpire Brian Gorman, Sale returned to the dugout and raised his arms in relief.
“Not taking anything away from [replacement Ramon] Santiago -- he’s a heck of a player, too -- but the best hitter to ever walk the planet is leaving after the first,” Sale said. “It doesn’t get any easier after that. You still have to make pitches and stuff because they have a heck of a lineup up and down. You just try to stay on the game plan and get through it.”
There has been plenty to potentially derail Sale this season, from early arm soreness to team struggles to the lack of run support. So far he has managed to fight through all of it.
So is Sale hoping for some Cy Young consideration, even after carrying a won-loss record under .500 into September?
“Nah, for me it’s one day at a time, one game at a time,” he said. “Whatever that stuff happens to be, it is. Don’t try to put too much emphasis on it. Just go out there and do everything I can to win that game.”
With at least three more starts available before the end of the season, Sale still feels like he has something to prove, even though the White Sox have nothing left to play for except pride.
“It’s nice to see that he’s making progressions like that,” Ventura said. “I think for his future and for our future, to see him with that kind of velocity late and being as sharp as he is going through a lineup like this, it’s something that is nice to see and a positive moving forward.”