Chris Sale Being Prepared As Starter


With Jake Peavy’s shoulder at about “60 or 70 percent,” his timetable for return is still up in the air heading into spring training.

Peavy’s ailment aside, the White Sox are sitting pretty after a very successful offseason where general manager Ken Williams has gone “all-in” with owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s funds.

The big question on most White Sox fans’ minds remains…if Peavy isn’t ready by opening day, who will be the fifth starter?

Freddy Garcia was certainly on the Sox’s radar, but due to the aforementioned exhausted payroll and the inability to guarantee a spot in the rotation, it best suited Garcia to move on to navy bluer pastures, ending the righty’s third stint on the south side of town.

Phil Humber was claimed off waivers in January and will be looking to seize a spot in the rotation, if only temporary.

Drafted third overall in 2004, Humber was a highly-touted prospect in the Mets’ farm system. He was traded to the Twins as a part of the Johan Santana deal in 2008, but never really made an impact there. He was designated for assignment in December and was picked up by Oakland, only to be cut a few weeks later.

Needless to say, Humber may have a chip on his shoulder when pitchers and catchers report and could have a say in the matter.

Tony Pena’s name has been mentioned, but Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen would prefer he retains the role he had in 2010, the long man in the bullpen and an emergency starter.

Lucas Harrell has another chance to impress this spring after mixed reviews last season. He won his Major League debut against Oakland on July 30, allowing just one run in six innings, but struggled with his control. He walked 17 and struck out 15 in 24 innings last season (eight appearances, three starts).

The favorite to make a start or two in Peavy’s absence is Chris Sale, who jumped on the scene last year with a 1.93 earned run average and 32 strikeouts in 23.1 relief innings.

Last month at Soxfest 2011, Williams spoke about Sale’s spring regimen.

“As I requested, he’s being prepared as a starter. The reason I was adamant about that is because that’s the way he’s always prepared. If you now try to have him do something he’s not used to doing, you  may  not get the guy you just saw the last half of the [2010] season. I think it’s important for him to prepare as they always have so you can get the most out of them. As we’re currently set up, it’s my feeling that he ultimately will be in the bullpen because we won’t have that need for any longer than 30 days, if we have it at all. To have him prepare as a reliever and possibly take away one or two of his pitches, because that’s what people tend to do, I don’t think is wise.”

What Williams said makes perfect sense, but what happened next is what caught me off-guard.

A reporter engaged Kenny in a conversation about pitchers making the move from relief to starter and how tough it is, let alone for a 22-year-old with limited Big League experience.

“With a month or two months [of experience]…you do what you can do. He’s shown he can do it,” Williams said.

Having seen Sale dominate hitters last season, it’s entirely justified to have confidence in him, but there needs to be a level of caution. You don’t judge a book by its cover and you don’t judge baseball players by their September performances.

Sale’s 2010 stats and current situation are startlingly similar to Joba Chamberlain, who posted a 0.38 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 24 innings pitched in his first taste of Major League action in 2007.

Chamberlain started in the bullpen the following season after preparing as a starter, making his way into the rotation in June. He hurt his shoulder in August, and, well…Yankees fans have been infatuated with the topic ever since.

It’s too early to be  concerned that Sale is on a similar path, but watch out for the signs. If he gets a set of rules named after him or gnats swarm around him when he takes the mound in Cleveland, I’m sorry…

Of course, this can all be avoided if Peavy has a successful spring and comes back healthy, but since his injury is so uncommon, it’s tough to predict what may happen.