White Sox fail to manage Sale, message

I'd be making this face, too.

During the 14-inning heartbreaker to Oakland that started this slide into despair, there was a suicide squeeze call that maybe wasn't one. We know Kosuke Fukudome took off from third. We know Brent Morel squared around. But then Morel pulled the bat back as the pitch drifted low and away, which means that somebody didn't understand the call.

Robin Ventura didn't offer much clarification:

When asked why Morel didn't make a more concerted effort to make contact, Ventura replied: "It was more of (Morel) was going to get it down first, and if it gets it down, Fukudome is going to run. So it's just a little mix-up."

So it was a safety squeeze?

"Sort of," Ventura said. ''Not really."

So it was a suicide squeeze call?

"Yeah," Ventura smirked. "One got a suicide (signal), and one got the other one. It's my fault."

It wasn't a particularly professional moment, but while Ventura played coy poorly, the consequences were minimal. I would've liked to know what happened, but assuming it was straightened out among the involved parties, the story ended there.

A little more than a week later, Ventura's inability to get a story straight had much larger ramifications. He and Don Cooper announced a shocking decision to move Chris Sale from the rotation to the closer spot. Given another chance to explain a confusing series of events, they once again bungled the story.

There's still too much mystery surrounding these circumstances to make a complete and final judgment. All I know is that I hate the move, and/or I hate the way they broke it. This is really getting ridiculous.

Here's what Twitter looked like around 5 p.m. EST as the beat writers heard the news. Pulling various tweets (or various words from various tweets) from Mark Gonzales, Daryl Van Schouwen and Scott Merkin...

  • Tender elbow.
  • Slightly tender elbow area.
  • Sox emphasize Sale not hurt
  • Taking him off starter workload.
  • Coop said Sox didn't want to take risk on Sale's future.
  • Sale felt some tenderness in his elbow and this move was done to preserve his career. He is not hurt
  • "We're not making this decision based on what's best for the team because obviously he's starting and doing well.''
  • "We feel we're doing what's best for him, his career and his health. It's the best way to keep him healthy and strong.''
  • Ventura described the feeling in Sale's elbow as tightness at some point and then soreness at others.
  • "He's not hurting," Ventura said.
  • Chris Sale said he felt fine after his last start. Obviously something changed after that. Too bad.
  • Sale's move to pen is for duration of season, at least. If he was injured, he wouldn't continue to pitch in bullpen.
  • Pitchers get achy. It comes with territory. He wanted to continue starting, but the first sign of fatigue, tenderness or whatever you want to call it sent the Sox rushing to the side of caution.
  • Cooper: Chris is going to be fine. He was upset. He wanted to continue to do this.

That's a steaming pile of conflicting sentiments. First, Sale's elbow was "slightly tender," and that seemed to be the party line. "Tender" isn't great, but it doesn't seem to be a common keyword for larger problems.

Then Cooper talked about "preserving his career," which was a sudden and grave turn. And then Ventura threw "soreness" and "tightness" into the mix, which are decidedly worse than "tender" when it comes to elbows.

You know who had elbow soreness? Tony Pena and Kyle Farnsworth. You know who recently had tightness in their elbows? Cory Luebke and Mike Pelfrey. Two of those guys had Tommy John surgery. Luebke is approaching that point, and Farnsworth is on the 60-day DL.

At this point, the Sox described Sale's condition using three different terms to describe pain ... oh, but he's not hurting!

You have the manager and pitching coach throwing loaded words around like grenades, and then they're trying to reassure you that they didn't pull the pins, while you're trying to figure out why the hell they're throwing grenades, or even why or how they brought grenades into the room in the first place.

Meanwhile, the guy who probably handles the media better than either of them isn't talking. What. The. Hell.

Star-divide

It's going to take a while to figure out why one of the few specific reasons to tune in to the White Sox on a given night no longest exists.

If Sale doesn't find his missing miles per hour in the ninth inning, then there are some physical issues that will need attention. If this is the case, it's hard to blame the Sox for trying to downplay the discomfort while seeing if they would work through it, even if they severely mishandled the delivery of the news.

If Sale gets past the tenderness/soreness/COMPLETE ABSENCE OF PAIN, GO BACK TO YOUR HOMES/tightness with no further problems, we're only going to have more questions than answers. The big one being: Why did the Sox immediately bail on a very important plan?

It certainly looks fishy, especially given this tweet:

The Sox were supposed to manage his workload carefully, but that hasn't been the case. He threw 110 pitches against Seattle, starting the seventh even though he had thrown 100 pitches and the Sox held a four-run lead. The very next start, he throws eight innings and is sore. That's not surprising, and it could have been avoided. If the Sox were soooooooo concerned about exposing Sale to needless risks, they only started caring yesterday.

And the more Ventura and Cooper talk, the more it seems like they were waiting for the first excuse to pull the plug on Sale starting ("It's not disappointing to us, it's disappointing to him").

It has to be a killer to Sale. He certainly sounded crushed, and this quote was especially striking:

"The big thing is a lot of guys in here were telling me, 'hey don’t be a hero. Tell them what’s going on.' Because at the end of the day the only person who loses is yourself and you hurt the team more if you go out and try to do more than you’re capable of doing."

This decision just provides more motivation for a pitcher to try to push through pain. If they're going to be yanked from the role at the very first non-optimal moment, they could very well be better off taking their chances. Sale had reason to be selfish, and I kinda wish he was.

More than anything, I want to know if it's disappointing to Kenny Williams. Williams drafted Sale with the intent of using him as a starter. He let Mark Buehrle go with the intent of replacing him with Sale. And now, Sale is not a starter, at least not for the rest of the year, and there's nobody who can replace his potential.

Jake Peavy's contract is up after this season. Gavin Floyd's the year after that. Phil Humber is nowhere near a certainty. John Danks is pitching and looking worse than the guy whose livelihood is hanging by a thread (WAIT NO IT'S NOT). They have no sure things in the minors. Sale's transition to starting was crucial to the shape of the rotation, and his progress was supposed to transcend wins and losses.

Now he's the closer for a team that doesn't look like a contender, which is the equivalent of a Mercedes hood ornament on a 1991 Chevy Cavalier. The Sox seemed braced for some bullpen growing pains, but just because the first option didn't work out, they're now turning their back on the greater good and using their most valuable commodity in a far less essential role.

Ozzie Guillen's time was up because he refused to make tough decisions. But the Sox gave Ventura the job even though he had no experience defending unpopular moves himself. It shows, and worse, it could hurt for years to come.

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