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posted: 6/3/2012 9:22 PM

White Sox' Sale continues to baffle hitters

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  • White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers congratulates Chris Sale after Sale threw his first major-league complete game Sunday.

    White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers congratulates Chris Sale after Sale threw his first major-league complete game Sunday.
    Associated Press

 
 

What makes Chris Sale such a special starting pitcher?

We asked White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers, who was behind the plate Sunday and had plenty of inside information.

"You look at him, he's pretty goofy to begin with," Flowers said after the Sox beat the Mariners 4-2 at U.S. Cellular Field.

"There's the funky little windup, the funky delivery. Arm slot kind of three-quarterish. He gets some good movement, and he's starting to figure out how to make it move consistently one way or the other.

"Sometimes the fastball into a right-hander will have a little cut on it, and sometimes it'll kind of come back.

"I can only imagine trying to hit off that. You see it one time come back and it's like, 'OK, if that comes there again, I'm going to swing.' And then it cuts on your back foot.

"So he has the secret weapon in his arsenal. His changeup's become a good pitch, and his slider, when that slider's on, just mix it up and we'll take our chances with that every time."

Now, for the really good Sale stuff:

"The hardest part for me with Sale is catching the ball," Flowers said. "It's literally a challenge to catch the ball. A.J. (Pierzynski) and I have talked about it.

"When his stuff's on, it's a little inconsistent. Cut and sink. You've just got to be ready for everything. Every pitch is something you have to block or jump or something."

In other words, when Sale lets it go, you can be pretty sure the pitch will be in or close to the strike zone. But with all of the movement, good luck catching it.

Better yet, good luck hitting it.

About an hour before he made his way to the mound Sunday, Sale was named the American League pitcher of the month for May.

About four hours later, Sale again showed why bigger and better accolades undoubtedly lie ahead.

With the bullpen gassed after Saturday's 12-inning loss to the Mariners, the White Sox were hoping for 6 or 7 solid innings from Sale in Sunday's matinee.

They got more. Much more.

And as Sale keeps showing with each passing start, an injury is the only thing threatening to slow him down.

"He was great," manager Robin Ventura said after Sale pitched his first career complete game. "He's jumping ahead and making guys swing and miss. It's just one of those he keeps getting better, if there's any way to do that after 15 strikeouts.

"He's a talented kid with a lot of guts and everything else and he just continues to get better."

The scary thing is, Sale is only 23 and Sunday was just his 10th major-league start.

He's also 7-2 and leads the AL with a 2.29 ERA.

For as good as Sale was at Tampa Bay last week, when he allowed 1 run in 7 innings while falling 1 strikeout short of the franchise record 16 established by Jack Harshman in 1954, the left-hander thought Sunday's effort was a touch better.

"Any time you get a complete game and give the bullpen arms -- they have been working real hard for us back there -- any time you can give them a day off, it's awesome," Sale said. "I had the mindset of being efficient and getting late into the game."

While going the distance, Sale allowed 2 runs on 5 hits while walking two and striking out eight. He threw 119 pitches, a career high.

"That kid didn't make any mistakes today," Seattle manager Eric Wedge said.

Considering his slight frame and the fact he was nearly converted to closer in early May after complaining of elbow discomfort, Sale's health and stamina are going to be an issue for the rest of the season.

But if he can keep taking the ball every fifth day and performing at such a high level, Sale is going to get all-star and Cy Young consideration.

The way things are going for the White Sox, he might even win a few postseason games.

"Chris is such a great pitcher," said Eduardo Escobar, who started at third base Sunday before moving to left field in the third inning when Kosuke Fukudome had to leave with a sore right side.

"You know what he's going to bring out there, and then you just have to do your part defensively to make sure that you can contribute on that aspect of it. Playing with him is a great feeling."

Watching him pitch also is a treat, not that Sale thinks he's anything special.

"I really don't pay attention to that kind of stuff," he said. "I take it day by day and inning by inning and really just try to exclude every other thought other than executing pitches.

"Whatever they throw down, that's what I'm throwing, and that's where I'm trying to stay now."

sgregor@dailyherald.com

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