CHICAGO -- As the only returning member of the Chicago White Sox's core coaching staff, Don Cooper’s job is both simple and complex at the same time.
Unlike the rest of the staff, which includes hitting coach Jeff Manto, bench coach Mark Parent and manager Robin Ventura, pitching coach Cooper knows his charges well and knows what to expect from each one.
But that also puts Cooper on the spot.
Ventura has mentioned multiple times this offseason that he will lean hard on Cooper when it comes to all things pitching. The latest such Ventura reference to the subject came in a Saturday morning seminar at SoxFest with the coaching staff.
Aside from finding a legitimate closer, Cooper’s biggest task this spring could be to set Chris Sale on a course toward being a solid major-league starter. Sale will move into the rotation this season after a year and a half in the bullpen.
Having never pitched upward of 200 innings -- or even started a major-league game for that matter -- Cooper will need to assist Sale in the transition to his new role.
“Listen, we're not going to handcuff this kid,” Cooper said Saturday. “… We're going to give this kid just enough work experience, let him go. And as the season’s going, and I don't mean in the first half, as the season goes, we'll continue to assess where he's at.”
Without a lot of starting depth beyond their top five, Sale won’t be afforded much of a learning curve. He will have to produce right away for a club that needs just about everybody to return to their career norms or deliver to their potential if the Sox want to have success.
“It's uncertain because he hasn't done the role,” Cooper said. “But he has pitched as a starter his whole career. There's going to be uncertainty in any guy’s first year starting in the big leagues because it's a huge challenge.”
In a pitching seminar Saturday morning Sale addressed the subject of his transition from college pitcher to major-league reliever in a matter of months. He said the jump was startling but he handled it well for the most part.
Then despite some brief stumbles, Sale had an impressive first full season in the major leagues.
Next year will come with yet another adjustment, and the quicker that adjustment happens the better off the White Sox will be both in the short and long term.
“What's the worst thing that could happen to Chris Sale? He gets hurt.” Cooper said. “So we're going to do everything in our power not to let that happen. We have control over that to a large degree. How do we have control? Watching the workloads, watching how many sidelines he has. I'll keep an eye on that.
“We'll make sure to track throwing in between starts, innings and pitches in a game, how many innings he has as the season goes. It’s going to be a continuing assessment. The No. 1 goal for all of our players is stay healthy. If they do stay healthy, then they’re going to go out there and do the things we envision them doing.”