GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Chicago pitcher Chris Sale claims to have added 10-15 pounds to his notoriously skinny frame since last season. He even says his jeans fit better now. But White Sox teammate Adam Dunn is skeptical of the reports.
"If he did, it must have been in his earlobes," Dunn said.
That hummingbird metabolism notwithstanding, Sale emerged as a pitching heavyweight last season. He went 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA, made the American League All-Star team and stayed reasonably effective to the end. He posted a 7-6 record with a 4.03 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 89 1/3 innings after the break -- not bad considering he had pitched exclusively out of the bullpen and thrown a total of 71 innings the previous season.
Now the consensus in White Sox camp is that Sale deserves the Opening Day starting assignment. Jake Peavy has endorsed him. Dunn thinks he's the guy. And even though manager Robin Ventura has refrained from making a formal announcement, it will be a surprise if anyone other than Sale gets the nod against James Shields and Kansas City on April 1.
Sale did just fine in his Cactus League debut Friday, with 2 1/3 scoreless innings and 48 pitches against Cleveland. He expects to "tweak" a few things over the next month in Arizona, but plans to stick with the fastball-slider-changeup repertoire that's made him such a handful against major league hitters. If his 2012 breakthrough taught him anything, it’s the importance of grinding it out during the inevitable fatigue and dead-arm phases that a 162-game season brings.
The expectations are higher this year, so Sale understands the need to keep his priorities in order. That helps explain his decision to turn down an opportunity to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
"I would have loved to do it," Sale said. "It's an honor to put those colors on and play for your country. At the same time, after the workload I went through last year, I didn't think it was going to benefit myself or my team.
"I want to put everything I have into this right here. A few years down the road, when I get asked again, it might be a different story. It was a great opportunity, just the wrong timing for me."
There is also something to be said for spring training camaraderie. Sale drove from White Sox camp in Glendale, Ariz., to the game in Goodyear with Dunn. Naturally, the subject of fast food came up in conversation.
Dunn, who is listed at 6-6, 285, is both galled and mystified that Sale has had to work so hard to pack 180 pounds on his 6-6 frame.
"He rode me over here and he was like, 'Are we going to stop at McDonald's or Burger King or something?'" Dunn said. "I was like, 'Dude, no. All you have to do is talk about it and I gain seven pounds.'"