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Chris Sale is Play-Doh

A few days back, our good friend Marty Maloney sent out an email asking White Sox bloggers if they would like the chance to interview last year's first round draft pick Chris Sale. As sure as the sun rose this morning, both Jim and I said yes. JJ Stankevitz of White Sox Examiner was in on the phone call as well. Before getting into the transcript though, I would like to thank Marty for contacting us once again and Chris for agreeing to the interview session.

Mark Primiano: All of your scouting reports have mentioned that you throw a plus changeup as part of your repertoire, yet last year when you were up in Chicago in the bullpen you hardly threw it. What's your reasoning for this?

Chris Sale: I'm really not sure. It was kind of one of those things where the opportunity just really wasn't there. I threw a few of them, but most of the time I was facing left-handed hitters so I just kind of worked more on my fastball and slider. The changeup is something I'm looking to incorporate a little bit more this coming year. It was one of those things where I had a great catcher behind the plate, a very veteran catcher, and whatever he called I was gonna throw.

JJ Stankevitz: There was an article back from October out of Naples and it said you were told to learn a "three finger fastball". Is that a cutter?

CS: A three finger fastball? I'm not too sure where that came from.

JS: But has the organization talked to you at all about learning a cutter?

CS: Not yet. They're more worried about me getting stronger and being able to withstand a full season. I had a pretty good amount of innings last year, but I wasn't in the big leagues the whole year. They're more worried about me holding together for a full year in the big leagues and kind of fine tuning my pitches that I have for now. In the future? That would be awesome, teaching me how to throw a cutter. But for right now, I'm more worried about fine tuning the pitches that I have.

Jim Margalus: Going back to the changeup/slider, which do you have more comfort in? Like say if you needed to get out a jam, which one would you go to first?

CS: Man, it's hard to say. I felt a lot more comfortable with my changeup, especially in college and the summer leagues. But from the experience that I got here and throwing my slider as much as I did, I actually got really, really comfortable with my slider. You know, throwing it in 3-2 counts, being able to throw it to both sides of the plate, up, down, in and out. It's kind of a hard call right now. It's kind of each day, whichever I feel better in the pen, it kind of translates different for each pitch. It could be the changeup one day and then I'd feel better with my slider. I just like to go out there and have confidence in all my pitches.

JM: Leading up to the draft, when you were kind of going over it with your agent about possible scenarios, did you ever think you'd be pitching in the majors in August?

CS: laughing Absolutely not. That was a lifetime experience right there. That doesn't happen very often and I was fortunate to come to a team where I guess I was kind of in the right place at the right time. Just very fortunate to be in the situation that I was in, kind of going through the minors really quickly and getting to the big leagues. And once I got here, being with such a great group of guys. There's a lot of veterans on the team and a lot of people that helped me out along the way. I was very, very fortunate.

JM: When you were going through the process, did you get to know any peers who were also drafted that you could compare your situation to? Did you ever get to talk about how different your situation was? What was the kind of perception from others around you?

CS: What do you mean their perception? Like what they thought of my situation?

JM: Yeah, especially other rookies who were going through the system. Did you get to talk to them at all?

CS: Yeah. Obviously they congratulated me and were kind of just asking questions. I went to Washington D.C. and I met some of the other guys and they just asked questions like "How was it? What were you thinking? Was it crazy hectic?". It was kind of filling them in on my roller coaster summer that I had.

MP: Ultimately, what would be your preferred role: coming out of the bullpen or transitioning back to being a starting pitcher?

CS: To be totally honest with you, I just want to pitch. My ultimate goal is to just be here and to pitch for the Sox and help our team out in every way that I can. Whether that's starting, long relief, short relief, set-up, closing, it doesn't matter. I kind of like to use this analogy: I'm just like Play-Doh, whatever you want to do with me I'm gonna do and I'm gonna go at it 100%. I really don't care. Pitching is pitching and I just want to be out there, helping my ball club in every way I can whether it's starting or relieving.

JS: You say pitching is pitching, but is there a difference in how you approach with your fastball between starting and relieving? Are you going to have to dial down your fastball as a starter or is it going to be at 97-99 MPH that we saw out of you as a reliever?

CS: I'm not sure. I'm just going to go out there and give it everything I have. Obviously when you're a reliever you know you're not going to throw as many pitches so you can kind of give it everything you have. If I'm a starter, it is what it is. I'm going to go out there and make every pitch that I possibly can and do what I can to help our team because the ultimate goal is the World Series and playing in the playoffs.

JM: In Mark Buehrle's rookie season, he had the benefit of pitching along side David Wells who was a very similar pitcher and he said he was able to learn a lot about pitching from Wells' approach. Out of the bullpen you have another hard throwing left-hander in Matt Thornton. Have you been able to learn anything from him?

CS: Absolutely. Not only Matt Thornton. Obviously he is one of the guys I look to because he is a lefty out of the pen. And I got some stuff not just from him, but everybody. Sergio (Santos) was going through the same thing I was. He was in the big leagues last year as a rookie. I was kind of getting his mindset of it. I'm getting the veterans' side of it, with J.J. (Putz), and Thornton, and (Scott) Linebrink. And then of course closing from Bobby Jenks. All of those guys helped me out tremendously this year and I'll never forget those guys and what they did for me. Coming to the big leagues so fast and feeling comfortable because of the help that they gave me and the advice that they gave me.

MP: Since the day you were drafted there has been a great amount of talk about your mechanics being slightly unusual and while you are a very tall player, you weigh considerably less than most players of your height and these have brought up durability concerns. How do you feel about these comments?

CS: It is what it is and I'm not really worried about it. Even though I have a more slender body and not a big frame, I still feel strong enough to be able to do it. You kind of take it for what it's worth. People are gonna say what they want to say, but I really try not to pay attention to it. I just really want to go out there and pitch. I want to be able to last in the season and I want to be able to not have to worry about injuries or my arm being fatigued. My main goal and focus is to be able to pitch a full year in the big leagues without any hiccups along the way. That's pretty much all I really focus on about the whole durability issue.

JM: Did you happen to see Don Cooper's comment about his concerns with you bouncing between starting and relieving?

CS: Yeah, I talk to Coop periodically. I call him every Friday to fill him in on what I'm doing and get some advice from him. Obviously he has his concerns and he wants me to do one or the other and not both. I completely agree and see where he's coming from, but at the same time I'm kind of in a spot where I just want to help the team. So if that means starting for a month and then going to a reliever, or starting the whole year or relieving the whole year, whatever it is I'm up for it. I'm just kind of focused on getting stronger and being in great shape for spring training.

MP: While you were pitching against the Royals back in September, umpire Angel Hernandez kind of got on your case about your gold necklace. Do you think other umpires will take issue with it, because obviously you're not getting rid of the gift from you grandma which you obviously value greatly?

CS: Oh absolutely. And in that situation, I'll do like what I did and I'll just take it off. It's not that big a deal and I'm not gonna raise a scene about it. There were already some altercations earlier in the game about pick-off moves and whatnot and I didn't want to relight the fire that didn't need to be lit. But yeah, I'm gonna wear it and if someone wants me to take it off and if an umpire has a problem with it I'll take it off. Most of the time I didn't get anything about it and no one said anything to me, but if it does come up I'm just going to take it off. At the end of the day, obviously the necklace means a lot to me, but it is just a necklace so it's not like it's going to make me pitch any better or worse.

JM: When you went through the minors so quickly, were you able to build a bond with any of the teammates in the Carolinas or when you got to the majors were you still looking for people to bounce ideas off of?

CS: When I showed up to Winston-Salem, I made some pretty good friends there that I still talk to, but I'd never been through pro ball, so at each stage I went through I kind of asked questions especially to the relievers and the pitchers about the mindset, like what to expect every day at each level. When I went to high-A what to expect. When I went to AAA, picking their brains because it was a higher level. And then when I got here, I was nervous at first but some of the guys on the team just came over and said "If you have any questions, just let me know". It was awesome. Each step of the way, I got filled in on the information not only to make myself feel comfortable but to be able to go out there and pitch and not be stressed out about it.

James Fegan: The first time you pitched in the big leagues, I believe Ozzie threw you into a one run game or a tie game against Baltimore on the road, was it talked to you before about what kind of role you'd be in? Did you know you would be in high-leverage situations? Was it discussed at all?

CS: He told me when I got here "You're up here for a reason and we're gonna use you". I didn't care, I just wanted to pitch. I'm up here, just excited to be here with the lifetime opportunity of being able to pitch in the major leagues so I really didn't care what situation I was brought in. And obviously that situation didn't go like I planned it to, but the guys on the team were great about it. They were like "Hey man, it's over with. You had a bad day, it doesn't matter. You have tomorrow." And that was just like kind of where I felt a lot more comfortable because I felt like I didn't have to prove myself, I could just go out there and pitch.

JM: You got a taste of closing when Bobby Jenks got injured and you and Matt Thornton kind of switched places depending on what the game situation was. Was there any talk of trying to find an established closer and have you been approached about the closer role or are they kind of playing it by ear?

CS: As of now, I'm training like a starter. I'm going to show up to spring training and expect to start. And if it comes up where they want me to close games, hey, that'd be awesome too. I had so much fun last year being able to close. Edwin Jackson kind of said it like this "Hey, you're the last man standing. You're the last guy out there. You either get it done, we shake hands and we have a good night or you're walking off the field and you've lost the game." And it's kind of fun to go out there and be in that pressure situation where you have to go out there and have to do well and the adrenaline rush is awesome. I had a lot of fun with it, but like I said before, whatever they want me to do, I'm gonna do it to the best of my ability.

And with that, Chris had to go and Marty assured us there would be another interview some time next month.


UPDATE BY JIM (2:29 AM): We weren't the only ones to talk to Sale. Along with the guys U-God mentioned, James from White Sox Observer was also present, and he shares some of his impressions.

Sale also talked to the beat writers, and Brett Ballantini has the most comprehensive recap of that segment, while Scott Merkin has the most from Ozzie Guillen.

I don't like the way this sounds:

Although Guillen couldn't provide any clarity on Sale's immediate future, he did admit that breaking camp with a "closer by committee" is not a routine he wants to follow.

"That's a good thing for the pitcher, knowing what [his] position is going to be," Guillen said. "I think that's one thing we're looking for and I hope we do."

Matt Thornton likes the idea of closing -- he said as much in his interview with Chuck Garfien. He gave Garfien some reasons toward the end, but he didn't say the one I was telling my monitor: "Contract year! Contract year!"