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Bad vibes abound with Sale's rocky start

I've had a thought rolling around in my head that I've been too frightened to put down in words, both because it could both lead me to ridicule and/or unnecessarily inspire further dread. But given that the similarities haven't ceased, it's time to workshop this idea:

Chris Sale is reminding me an awful lot of the 2008 version of Boone Logan.

Both pitchers are tall, wiry left-handed with odd arm slots and big fastball/slider combinations that left-handed hitters should find unhittable. "Should" is the operative word -- to use the parlance of Gameday, when lefties put the ball in play, outs aren't being recorded.

The overall numbers are much closer than everybody would like:

Year Guy
2008 Logan
2 3 5.95 55 0 42.1 57 7 14 42 1.68 12.1 1.5 3.0 8.9 3.00
2011 Sale 2 0 7.15 11 1 11.1 15 3 5 13 1.765 11.9 2.4 4.0 10.3 2.60

And against lefties, they aren't much better.

2008 Logan vs. LHB 110 103 30 5 1 5 5 30 6.00 .291 .324 .505 .829 .397
2011 Sale vs. LHP
21 16 5 2 0 0 3 7 2.33 .313 .450 .438 .888 .556

Now, obviously there are major discrepancies. Sample size is one, if Sale's BABIP didn't tip you off. Pedigree is the other. Sale's a consensus first-round pick that probably should have gone higher, and Logan was a run-of-the-mill A-baller who parlayed spring training B-game success into an up-and-down major-league career (don't let your babies grow up to be right-handed).

And really, I wouldn't have drawn any connection between the two, had it not been triggered by a Brett Ballantini post from last week. That Sale has lost two ticks off his fastball so far hasn't helped, either.

Here's the paragraph from Ballantini's piece that stopped my brain:

Chris Sale has suffered a disastrous 2011 campaign so far, both on and off the field. Already embroiled in Stormwatch ’11: Closer Edition back on April 13, manager Ozzie Guillen was enraged at Sale for telling pitching coach Don Cooper he was ready to pitch after a career-high outing mere hours earlier (earning the win). Given that a key element of managing a successful staff is placing trust in your pitchers—without ignoring the blame Ozzie and Coop have to take for trusting a 22-year-old with more "stuff" than experience—it wasn’t a wise dip into bravado by Sale.

Just two weeks later, Sale’s woes on the mound had mounted, to the point that after nearly blowing a six-run lead in the ninth and forcing Guillen to call out closer Sergio Santos to nail a win down last night, the manager is calling Sale out as the disaster he is, injecting into his postgame comments a lecture about guys with great arms needing to learn how to throw strikes.

This took me back to 2008, when Boone Logan seemed to get it (1.05 WHIP, 1.95 ERA over 32 1/3 innings), before plummeting into Earth so hard, he could taste mantle. Prior to his demotion in August, he gave up 20 runs in the time it took him to record 24 outs.

There were numerous gut-check moments during Logan's plunge, from Don Cooper telling him to "get his head out of his ass," and Ozzie Guillen criticizing his body language.

Guillen gave him one last chance to prove his worth against Boston on Aug. 9. With the game tied at 1 in the seventh, he called for Logan for three consecutive matchups -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek and J.D. Drew. He gave up two singles and a walk to load the bases. When righty Dustin Pedroia came to the plate, Guillen came to the mound.

He didn't pull him. Instead, he gave him the ol' what-for on the mound, then went back to the dugout. Pedroia singled. Then the left-handed David Ortiz came to the plate, and he doubled. The Red Sox led 5-1, and Guillen pulled Logan all the way to Charlotte.

After the game, Guillen said about the situation, "'This is a pennant race. I want men on the field.''

The straits aren't that dire for Sale right now, but he's not on a good course. His relationships with relievers can deteriorate in a hurry if they fail him on two fronts:

  1. Lying about health or readiness otherwise.
  2. Failing to throw strikes when throwing strikes can't hurt.

And in the two appearances referenced by Ballantini above, Sale has been guilty of both. Guillen didn't chew out Sale for going to three-ball counts on every Oriole hitter while working with a six-run lead in the ninth, and that was a mild surprise. I had kinda expected him to slug him in the stomach after taking the ball.

Given the investment the Sox made in Sale and his relative inexperience, I think Guillen will go easier on him than the others. Guillen didn't lose anything by losing faith in Logan, who has had spurts of decency among lots of mediocrity since the Sox traded him to Atlanta in the Javier Vazquez deal. Locking Sale in his doghouse, on the other hand, would be a disaster on so many levels -- talent evaluation and deployment, player procurement, and even the draft.

At the same time, it makes sense for give Guillen and Sale a break from each other. Jake Peavy's return will force the Sox to shed a reliever, and with three non-closer lefties on the roster, there's no use for Sale in his current form. The results bear that out -- Sale has pitched less than any reliever in May, and Will Ohman is outperforming him handily.

It's a difficult decision, and I have no idea what truly makes sense. It's still early in the season in terms of sample sizes, but it's not "early" for the White Sox, thanks to the hole they've dug for themselves. And while knee-jerk demotions usually create more problems than they solve, anybody who is an affront to Guillen's bullpen honor code might require unusual means of protection. Bullpen situations have soured in a hurry before, and Sale's talent is worth preserving at all costs.