White Sox' Cooper not worried about Sale, young staff

Updated 3/6/2013 2:41 PM
  • White Sox starter Chris Sale has "a great delivery," says Don Cooper, his pitching coach.

    White Sox starter Chris Sale has "a great delivery," says Don Cooper, his pitching coach. Associated Press

You can't hear or read anything about the 2013 White Sox without wondering if Chris Sale will live to see Oct. 1.

Really. His condition is that serious.

Sale has to worry about his elbow, shoulder and -- probably -- left pinkie finger.

He's too tall, skinny and weak. He doesn't eat enough, lift enough or weigh enough. Honestly, he ought to throw less and spend his days at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Sale's very survival may be at stake.

Or, not.

"If weight had anything to do with velocity," said White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, "I'd have a good fastball right now."

Speaking from Sox camp Tuesday, Cooper made it clear that the club isn't concerned about projections for Sale, or predictions about his future.

"Usually the people talking about it, they're not in the business, not in the industry," Cooper said. "Too skinny? He can't pitch because he's too skinny? He's got a great delivery.

"That's what matters. They don't know what the (heck) they're talking about."

There have been numerous studies done and stories written about the effect of a jump in innings like Sale had last year, going from 71 to 192, and how some pitchers have suffered in the year or two after such an increase.

On top of that, Sale did leave the rotation briefly last May with a sore elbow. But he returned quickly to starting and went on a three-month tear with a 12-2 record and 2.50 ERA in 16 starts with 117 strikeouts against 25 walks in 115 innings, and a WHIP of exactly 1.00.

"Health is a going question for everyone," Cooper said. "Will our guys stay healthy? It's about delivery. Get the delivery right and you'll stay healthy.

"I'd match our last 11 years with anyone in that regard. Our guys go out there every five days for the most part, and I think we'll continue to do that. With (trainer) Herm Schneider and (conditioning coach) Allen Thomas, I like our chances."

Yet, there will be those who swear the numbers prove Sale will never survive the wear and tear.

"Get me who's saying it," Cooper said. "Is it a baseball guy, someone who knows pitching with a track record? I know the numbers and he went up in innings, but this was the plan all along. He wasn't going to be a lefty short guy his entire career."

Sale made the all-star team and finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting, but there were long stretches when he was the best pitcher in baseball in 2012, and Cooper believes this is just the beginning for his 23-year-old starter.

"The next step for him is to stay healthy all year, stay strong, and pour in strikes like he has," Cooper said. "Him and (Jake) Peavy, you'll not see two more consistent guys pounding the strike zone, going at hitters and dictating the count.

"Of course, (Sale) can be more dangerous, more consistent, more lethal. He can be better. If you're not trying to get better, then what are you doing?"

That applies even to Cooper himself. Already known as one of the best pitching coaches in the game, Cooper admits he's still evolving.

"Absolutely, I feel like I'm always learning in this game," Cooper said. "I say to myself all the time that I wish I knew this stuff years ago, but you learn from talking to guys and you learn from the pitchers. I learned a lot from (Mark) Buehrle.

"If you communicate with your guys, they give you answers, give you some hints. I haven't always been a great listener in a lot of areas in my life, but when it comes to talking to pitchers, I communicate well.

"As far as listening to my wife, she might say different. When she talks about the color of the drapes, whatever, I don't hear it.

"Just don't tell my wife I said that."

No, that stays between us.

"But if it's something that interests me, like pitching," Cooper said, "then I listen and communicate well."

With so many young pitchers on the staff, Cooper will have his hands full and more than enough interesting dialogue, but he handled the youngsters well last year.

Now comes the tough part. All those kids -- and there were many -- who threw so well so fast in 2012 will have to adjust as the hitters adjust to them, and therein lies the rub.

"As an example, we're asking Nate Jones to throw more fastballs to different spots to counteract that," Cooper explained. "Last year Addison Reed pretty much threw in on lefties and away on righties. To improve he's going to have to use both sides of the plate more so that the hitter has to think more, and the more a hitter thinks, the better.

"They have to throw more consistent breaking balls, more first-pitch strikes, more of the basics. The more and more I see, the more I realize it's about the basics, and it's our job to make sure they're adept at the basics.

"It's not easy to do as a pitcher, so you have to work on things. That's where my mind is at with these guys. Try to improve the basics to make the end product better.

"Even the older guys have to do that. We're all trying to get better, add things and make things better. If you're not doing that, you're not getting better. We'll continue to talk about that."

And Cooper will continue to listen.


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