In what's been a frustrating spring for him so far, Chris Sale finally put it all together against the Cincinnati Reds on Monday. He pitched six scoreless innings, allowing just two hits -- both to Zack Cozart -- and zero walks while striking out six.
In his first at-bat, he set up Votto with a fastball on the upper-inside corner, then got him to chase with a slider down and away. In his second at-bat, he made Votto flinch on a first-pitch front-door slider, and ended up retiring him on a routine fly to left.
Those pitches were among many highlights of a day that should give everybody a lot more faith in this project. His fastball command was his best yet -- while he seems to greatly prefer pitching righties with backdoor sliders and up-and-away fastballs, he was able to jam a few right-handed Reds inside. That's an improvement upon his previous start, when he Albert Pujols and friends made him pay for fastballs that caught too much of the plate.
His slider is still undoubtedly his bread-and-butter pitch, but even his changeup came along on Monday. When he missed, they were good misses.
The only way Sale's start could have been better is both teams combined for more than eight hits and one run. It was gray, fans were under blankets, and the hitters were swinging early and often.
But still, Sale did all he could, and it should take the heat off him for a while. The same can be said for Addison Reed, who struck out Votto with a changeup, then blew a fastball right by Scott Rolen in his 1-2-3 inning.
Jared Mitchell and Trayce Thompson: If either of these guys are going to make the leap, this would be the year to do it. They're starting on the right foot with fine springs, and I was impressed by Thompson in his small sample. He went 3-for-9 with a double, two walks and three strikeouts. He also added two steals (in three attempts), and handled all outfield chances with ease.
Jose Quintana: The White Sox brought a lot of left-handed possibilties into camp, and Quintana stood out by throwing strikes. He didn't walk a batter over his 3 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out two.
Simon Castro: Castro's ERA doesn't reflect it (13.50), but it was never going to look pretty after being shelled in the first of two official spring outings. He gave up five funs on six hits and a walk over 1 1/3 against the Dodgers on March 10, but came back to throw two scoreless hitless innings in a victory over the Cubs on Sunday (one walk, three strikeouts). Don Cooper liked what they accomplished in their one-on-one sessions, so it seems like Castro got what he needed out of camp despite one ugly day.
Deunte Heath: He did what he does -- limit hits (two over four innings), allow walks (three) and get a fair amount of strikeouts (three). Two of his three outings were successes, and the bad outing could have been worse. It's not particularly inspiring, but hey, he doesn't have the highest ceiling.
Ozzie Martinez: Martinez seemed like he had as good a chance as anybody to take the final bench spot, but he ended up taking a backseat for most of his time with the major-league camp. Not only did Eduardo Escobar receive defensive priority and twice the plate appearances, but even Tyler Saladino got more chances to hit (13 to 11). It certainly didn't help that Martinez went 0-for-10.
Jhan Marinez: The other half of the compensation package for Ozzie Guillen, Marinez had a shot at staking a claim at a bullpen spot with a strong spring. Alas, there's plenty of work left to do. He allowed 11 baserunners and five runs allowed over 4 1/3 innings, and struggled with his command more and more as the spring proceeded.
Charlie Leesman, Donnie Veal, Pedro Hernandez: None of the depth lefties were favorites for the 25-man roster, but all were jockeying for position as the LOOGY in the wings down in Charlotte. None stood out. Hernandez is in the best shape by far, allowing just one run and striking out four over three innings. But he also walked three, which is not great for a guy Kenny Williams identified as a "strike-throwing machine." Hector Santiago appears to be a bullpen lock, Eric Stults is still in camp and Jose Quintana didn't walk a batter, so they're going to start the season trailing.
NOTHING GAINED, NOTHING LOST
Nestor Molina: After getting rocked for five runs on seven hits while recording just four outs in his first outing, Molina responded with a pair of scoreless two-inning outings to save face. It's probably better than he didn't allow people to get too excited, because there's no reason to rush him.