CHICAGO – The Chicago White Sox’s staff ace finished the season with a losing record, not that anybody will hold that against him.
Chris Sale showed across-the-board improvement in 2013, and even if his final start of the season Friday was far from his best effort, manager Robin Ventura wasn’t going to change his opinion about his best pitcher.
“His starts put him up there with the elite pitchers in the game and we realize what we have and how young he is,” Ventura said. “We’re fortunate to have him and you want to make sure he stays healthy and continues to get better.”
Sale won’t make too much out of his final outing, in which he gave up four runs on nine hits over 5 1/3 innings against the Kansas City Royals. Likewise, he doesn’t want to make too much of some impressive numbers this year that included personal bests in innings (214 1/3) and strikeouts (226), while walking just 46.
“Those are all things to build off of, I guess you can say, and to strive for in the future,” Sale said. “Not only to reach that, but to surpass those [numbers] as well. You can strike out as many people as you want, but you have to win some games. That’s something else I’m waiting for next year.”
Sale closed the season with an 11-14 record, but his 3.07 ERA was more indicative of what kind of a season it was. His internal numbers are impressive enough for him to even get some Cy Young recognition among American League voters, although he isn’t expected to win the award.
With questions at the start of the season as to whether or not Sale could back up his impressive debut as a starter in 2012, his year solidified him as the player around whom the White Sox are comfortable remodeling the roster.
“Last year velocity was way down toward the end of the year and this year he has learned how to go through a season,” Ventura said. “He was better at that. He’s going to get better as a pitcher and mature and do all those things. But once you go through a full season and mature, this year I think he learned that.”
Sale said that indeed, he was more successful at maintaining his strength over 30 starts. He made 29 starts (30 appearances) last season.
“Yeah, I mean I felt strong throughout the whole year,” he said. “I don’t know how many starts I had. I don’t know if I made as many or more than last year but I was happy to be able to be out there and not have to be quite as on a leash as I was last year. Just go out there and be another pitcher.”
If there is an area where improvement is needed, it could be handling his frustration. In the heart of the season when the offense was unable to support Sale with runs, the slightest mistake would make the lefty visibly frustrated. His outings tended to suffer as a result.
“We weren’t scoring runs for him and he felt like if he gave up one run I think sometimes, his mannerisms, he felt like he had already lost the game,” Ventura said. “At times I don’t blame him for that either because that’s what happened. You have to guard against overthrowing and feeling like you have to strike everybody out to win the game.”
Perhaps the real frustration stemmed from the fact that Sale knew the true goal was slipping away at a very early stage.
“You play this game for one reason, and that’s to win a championship,” he said. “No matter what you do individually, you still strive for that championship and not being able to get there is tough. But you always have next year.”