GLENDALE, Ariz. — Chris Sale has heard the comparisons, and he knows they’re a little over the top.
Still less than a year out of college and with just 21 major-league games under his belt, the White Sox’ 21-year-old relief pitcher is already being likened to Randy Johnson, one of the best left-handed pitchers to ever take the mound.
“He was my favorite player when I was a kid,” Sale said at the Sox’ training Friday. “When I was around 10 years old, one of my coaches nicknamed me the Little Unit. (Johnson) was the Big Unit. I always enjoyed watching him pitch and I kind of modeled myself after him and tried to do what he did.
“Obviously, it’s good to hear that comparison, and if I could follow his career that would be awesome. But he did it for years and years and obviously, he was one of the best pitchers in the game for a long time.”
Johnson was also primarily a starting pitcher, winning 303 games and five Cy Young Awards.
For now, Sale is a relief pitcher.
On Thursday, the White Sox announced the former Florida Gulf Coast University star is staying in the bullpen this season, and Sale could easily break camp as the closer.
In his brief stint with the Sox at the end of last season, Sale was 4-for-4 in save opportunities and he racked up 32 strikeouts in 23 innings.
“If I threw 100 (mph), was left-handed and had that motion, I would want to be the closer for a long time,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “And his demeanor, his attitude, his work ethic has been great. A lot of times young kids come up fresh out of college and they have this all figured out being in the big leagues one month after college.
“He didn’t go about it at all like that. He handled himself great. He went about it the right way. He didn’t think he was better than anyone else.”
Sale was the first player from the 2010 draft class to make it to the majors, and he limited opposing batters to a .185 average while making a huge first impression.
But it didn’t really sink in until the off-season, when the 6-foot-6 lefty was back home in Florida.
“That was crazy,” Sale said. “The first time I really sat back and thought about it was in November and December. I was sitting there with my family, my wife was there, my dad, and I was like: ‘That was a heck of a summer. That was awesome.’
“I really enjoyed my time up with the team playing Chicago and having the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues. It was a good time and it’ll be exciting to see how spring training works out.”
If he emerges as the White Sox’ closer, Sale will try to keep the same mindset that fueled his rapid rise.
“I just want to help the team win whatever way I can,” Sale said. “If that means closing, heck yeah. But there are several guys here that have the stuff to be the closer, to get the last three outs, guys with experience. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.”
Sale did manage to “bulk up” to 175 pounds over the winter, but the youngster is still rail thin. Maybe that’s why conditioning coach Allen Thomas has been putting protein shakes in Sale’s locker.
“Obviously, I’m trying to gain some weight and trying to get stronger,” Sale said. “It’s a process. I’m trying to get stronger and prepare myself to be ready to pitch every day.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.