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The little wrinkle in the Chris Sale narrative


There’s a lot to like in the description of the White Sox approach to managing Chris Sale provided by Scott Merkin.

There’s  a pitcher who recognizes his own oddities, and has worked to iron out his rough edges while maintaining a delivery that works for him.

"“Obviously, arm angle for one. Lower three-quarters,” Sale said. “Kind of hunched over a little bit when I kind of come up to balance. I cross-fire a little bit.“My landing foot is here [toward home plate] and my other foot is more toward first base. I’ve actually corrected it a little bit. I’ve moved it over three or four inches, but I still have that. Those are the main things that I do different from most.”"

There’s a pitching coach who values results over the aesthetics of his wacky-looking prodigy.

"“He’s closed. He’s closed up. I want guys closed,” said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper of Sale’s funky delivery. “The only time that could be a problem is if he’s not able to throw the fastball down and away to lefties or in to righties, and he does that. Chris Sale‘s delivery is a solid delivery. We’ve got to maintain it.”"

And there’s a GM, who speaks for an organization that has spent a great deal of time and energy analyzing the risk in their top hurler, and made the decision to move forward.

"“When you have a guy who has a non-traditional or an atypical delivery, you have to look a little more closely in terms of where the pressure points are and where the leverage is coming from,” said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn of one of the team’s most valuable assets. “We have spent a fair amount of time breaking down his mechanics with video as well as with our coaches’ expertise and eyes and feel like, given the angle he comes from, that there’s not an inordinate amount of risk placed on him because of the mechanics.”"

These are all tremendously encouraging quotes to hear, and are even paired against some specifics from Herm Schneider about the workout program Sale is on. It all combines to provide a pragmatic and optimistic outlook for Sale’s future.

It also makes the rapid-fire demotion and un-demotion of Chris Sale to the bullpen last May stand out more by contrast. It was a quick-twitch reaction move that cut down his long-term value and suggested that the organization lacked confidence in his ability to hold up over the course of a season from the beginning. Yet the hindsight rationalization of the move from Hahn attempts to put it on the same terms as the days off Sale received in the second half for “dead arm.”

"“Obviously, we were concerned to get out in front of it,” Hahn said. “From my standpoint, that was probably an indication of fatigue/dead arm period that guys go through. Given what he was reporting in terms of not feeling any pain and structurally on exam there’s no issues, it very likely was just that period of sort of whether it be from the new usage level or just something that happens to pitchers from time to time in terms of a dead arm.“He got through that. We skipped a start and extended him out a little bit when he came back. The velocity was back and maintained for the most part the rest of the season.”"

But that doesn’t mesh with the season-long terms the move was put in at the time.

The timing is an obvious factor–Sale had yet to prove himself nearly as resilient nor as valuable by the start of May as he had by the end of July. Attitudes toward his place in the rotation have shifted from caution to defensive confidence. But is that switch propelled by a genuine about-face concerning Sale’s arm issues, or necessity due to how important he is to the team these days?

As much potential and self-awareness that Sale has, and as good as his support staff is and as glowing as the spring training words about him are, May 4, 2012 reminds us that the concerns about his health are real and have been acknowledged by the team in the past, even if they aren’t going to be acknowledged in the same way now. It’s great that it won’t be allowed to derail Sale’s career as a starter, but the doubt is still there.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan