With just over a month to go before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper still does not like the idea of Chris Sale tackling both starting and relieving roles during the 2011 season.
In fact, Cooper delivered his strongest words on the subject Saturday, not long after it was reported that the White Sox had signed left-handed reliever Will Ohman. That move appeared to give the White Sox the flexibility of moving the left-handed Sale to the rotation for at least a short stretch if necessary.
"I'm not favor of that," Cooper said, when asked if Sale would be used as a starter until an injured Jake Peavy returned. "It's unfair and too much to ask of a young guy until he has a chance to get himself situated.
"If he starts, he starts and starts all year. To start for a month, I don't like the sound or the feel of that. But I'm speaking for myself only. I haven't talked to [manager] Ozzie [Guillen] or [general manager] Kenny [Williams] on any of this."
Sale was the team's first-round draft pick from a year ago that came in and dazzled in a relief role. He had 32 strikeouts in 21 appearances and posted a 0.84 ERA in at U.S. Cellular Field (1.93 overall).
But Sale was drafted as a starter and the White Sox intended to use him in that role eventually, before he started doing things like going 4-for-4 in save opportunities, including 3-for-3 against American League Central opponents.
"We will talk about it and see what Kenny says," Cooper said, "but right now I'm not sitting here saying that we should start Sale if Peavy isn't ready."
As for Peavy's recovery from summer surgery to reattach a muscle under his right shoulder, Cooper said he hasn't talked to his pitcher since the beginning of December. He is trying to put together a plan to have Peavy do some throwing in Chicago over SoxFest weekend, Jan 21-23.
Cooper is optimistic that Peavy will be able to return by Opening Day, although some conservative estimates have his 2011 debut pushed back as far as mid-May. And what if Peavy isn't ready when the season starts?
"We will be able to get somebody that will do what we need them to do until Peavy is ready," Cooper said. "I remember the days when we had to find a No. 3, 4 and 5 starter. We will be able to get somebody."
Since Cooper doesn't make final player personnel decisions, he is looking at in-house candidates to bridge the gap until Peavy's return. He named Charlie Leesman, Lucas Harrell and Tony Pena as starting candidates.
"The last time I saw Peavy he led me to believe that there is a realistic chance he could be [ready to start the season] and that was on Dec. 5," Cooper said. "Now it's one month later. We'll see wherever that takes us. But if he needs additional time, we'll fill that spot and have Jake Peavy back at some point and time. You have to play it day by day, but right now he has a chance to do it."
Doug Padilla covers the White Sox for ESPNChicago.com.