The White Sox brain trust has said all the right things about Chris Sale as he approaches the end of his first full season as a starter. They're watching his workload, and if he encounters fatigue or soreness that isn't going away, they won't hesitate to shut him down.
Until that point, though, Robin Ventura is riding him like he would any other veteran.
Sale threw 118 pitches during seven stressful innings in the White Sox's 5-4 victory over Cleveland on Monday, and he passed a couple of exit ramps on the way. Ventura could have pulled Sale after he completed six innings using 104 pitches, although I'm sure Sale wouldn't have taken the news well. After Russ Canzler's two-run homer, Chris Sale morphed into Pissed Sale, working at turbo setting with fastballs to match (his first three after the homer were clocked at 94-95-94).
So Sale started the seventh and retired the first two batters before Jason Kipnis doubled to deep left center. Sale was at 115 pitches, and with switch-hitting Asdrubal Cabrera coming to the plate, Ventura had another opportunity to go to the bullpen. I thought he had left Sale in one batter too long, but Sale blew Cabrera away on three pitches to complete seven innings.
It looks like Ventura had the option of extending Sale for a maximum effort. Prior to the game, Hector Santiago said he was told to be ready for a start against Cleveland on Wednesday. It's a calculated gamble with a few options to consider.
Looking only at Santiago, if he's going to start against any team, it may as well be Cleveland. The Indians are a woeful 15-34 against left-handed pitching, and since returning to the 25-man roster in mid-August, Santiago has held lefties to three hits over 31 at-bats. The only on-paper complication is that Santiago is highly inefficient, and Ventura better have a reliever who isn't Philip Humber or worse for the fifth and sixth innings of a close game.
But the case to rest Jake Peavy offers more nuances than you'd see at first glance.
Over the last month, Peavy hasn't had much to offer aside from a chance to get a decent six innings. He hasn't recorded a 19th out since Aug. 24, and since he passed the 200-inning barrier for the first time since 2007, it's smart to anticipate a plateau late in the year. Since he's on schedule for two more starts no matter which day he starts this week, the Santiago intermission doesn't compromise the Sox's plans.
Extra rest hasn't been Peavy's best friend this year, though. He's pitched better on four days' rest this year than when given five or more. I'm willing to write this off as small sample size. He benefited immensely from longer layoffs in both 2011 or 2010, and since he's been only so-so in September, there's not a real sturdy rhythm to disrupt.
I just don't know whether the Sox benefit from Peavy missing a lefty-loaded lineup, especially when looking at the splits from his last five starts:
- vs. LHB: .235/.293/.382, 2 HR in 68 AB
- vs. RHP: .348/.412/.717, 4 HR in 46 AB
Looking at his Pitch f/x card, it looks like his problems stem from fastball location to righties, but I don't think his slider has been as sharp, either. Either way, much like his extended rest "issues," this development also flies in the face of his track record. Lefties are still hitting him better than righties over the course of this season. If you only have one chance to get it right, it makes sense to bet on the outcomes that have been more consistent over the years -- long rest and fewer lefties win the day here.
Sale's picture is more complicated. It would be great to reward gutting through 118 pitches with an extra day, but that could foul up some plans at he end of the year. On regular rest, he's set for one more start over the remainder of the scheduled season. At the moment, though, he would be on the schedule for a 163rd game, or available to appear out of the bullpen on short rest in Game 162. Pushing him back an extra day fouls up both plans, and would leave the Sox without two of their best starters for potential elimation games.
Mark Gonzales raised the prospect of Sale skipping a day, but Ventura only said the rotation was set through today. He shouldn't if he can help it. Sure, if the Sox somehow find themselves in a position with a little legroom, then maybe they can get away with delaying Sale for a day. Ventura shouldn't be counting on getting such a luxury. The path of most resistance is the only charted course in the season of tooth and nail, and the next marked rest stop is 11 days from now.
Postscript: Jeff Passan at Yahoo! Sports wrote a good column about Sale as the "anti-Strasburg." A sample:
Cooper did not consult doctors. He did not commission studies on pitchers like Sale. He did not provide a binder worth of evidence supporting the White Sox's decision to pitch Sale. Cooper, manager Robin Ventura and general manager Kenny Williams collaborated on what seemed like common sense to them: If they were going to make Sale a starter, they wanted to make him a starter who can pitch an entire season.
"We wanted him to get the full experience, get it out of the way," Cooper said. "Go start to finish. Pitch nine innings. All of those things. It's not novel. We knew it was going to be a challenge with his first year starting. I don't care who you are. I don't care how talented you are. It's tough. But I knew what we had. A quality guy."
Also, C.J. Wilson, who also made the jump from relief to starting and endured a huge uptick in innings, offered his support.