Believe it or not, Chris Sale is getting better.
That is some real bad news for opposing hitters. For Sale and the White Sox, it's a revelation.
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"I'll tell you the most impressive thing that he's doing is he'll throw a fastball 87 mph and then 95 mph," Adam Dunn said of Sale. "He's not just throwing now. He's pitching.
"For him to figure it out so quick, he's not max effort every single time. He's pitching; it's scary."
Gordon Beckham also weighed in on Sale after the left-hander appeared to toy with the Houston Astros in the Sox' 10-1 interleague win Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field.
"He's been really good, and he's gotten smarter, too," Beckham said. "Some of the pitches he's throwing, they're just smart pitches. He's getting off-speed with his fastball almost.
"He's been pretty awesome this year, I think everybody knows that. He's been pretty special."
At the beginning of the season, when Sale was making the transition from bullpen to rotation, he was averaging 6 innings of work and 100 pitches.
Dealing with an elbow scare in early May forced Sale to focus on being more efficient, and the philosophy worked to perfection Saturday. He allowed 4 hits over 8 shutout innings while throwing 101 pitches.
"That's one thing I really needed to focus on this year, moving forward is efficiency," Sale said after lowering his league-leading ERA from 2.30 to 2.05.
"Throwing strike one and keep pounding the zone … if you do that you get deeper in the game, and that's always important, getting deep and trying not to dip into the bullpen too quick."
With an 8-2 record and minuscule ERA, Sale is the best pitcher in the American League at the moment. The All-Star Game is a month away and, barring an unforeseen collapse or injury, Sale is a lock to make the trip to Kansas City.
"That would be awesome," he said. "You always think about those things as a kid, stuff like that. But at the same time, we've got a ways to go before any of that stuff even starts happening.
"If I start looking toward that, I'll lose focus of what I've got in front of me."
Sale didn't need much offensive support while winning for the sixth time following a White Sox loss, but he got it anyway.
The Sox broke the game open with 5 runs in the fifth inning off Astros starter Jordan Lyles. In the eighth, Dunn sealed it with a grand slam.
"When everything is clicking, we have guys who can run, guys who can get on base, guys who can hit the ball out of the park," Dunn said. "When we are playing good like this, everyone is getting really good at-bats and making the pitchers work."
At some point, Sale is going to run into a hot team. But the way the 23-year-old starter has been rolling lately -- 5-0 with a 0.98 ERA in his last 5 starts -- you don't see that happening anytime soon.
"He has a lot of ability," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "Any time he pitches, whether you won or lost, you feel like you're going to win his game. He just continues to go out and be consistent.
"That's the thing for somebody with his ability to do what he did last year and come in and do this. That transformation, he's not just a thrower. He's a pitcher."
Sale was almost an injured pitcher in the sixth inning, when he was hit by a Jed Lowrie groundball. Fortunately, it looked worse than it felt.
"It hit the bottom of my left foot and then ricocheted and hit my calf, whatever you call that thing back there," Sale said. "It was kind of comical after the panic went away. It didn't hurt or anything like that.
"That ball was smoked. You've got to get out of the way of it. But, yeah, continue to keep looking unathletic out there as a fielder and try to dodge balls."