After multiple days of melodrama, Chris Sale and Adam Eaton finally gave White Sox fans some playing-related material to discuss.
Both players took the Cactus League field in earnest for the first time in 2016 against the Dodgers on Saturday. Sale matched Clayton Kershaw pitch-for-pitch while extending himself into the sixth inning in his inaugural spring start:
- Sale: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR
- Kershaw: 5 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K
If you're trying to act like nothing's the matter, blending in with baseball's best pitcher isn't a bad way to go about it.
Sale kept himself under control in all regards Saturday, sounding as though he'd already unburdened himself earlier in the week, when he used Adam LaRoche's retirement to blast Kenny Williams.
"From yesterday on we’re showing up to play baseball,’’ Sale said. "There isn’t anything else to talk about. We have a job to do and I think going forward, moving forward, that’s what we’re here for.’’
And while he could've easily been Pissed Sale on the mound, he reined in his pitching, too, throwing strikes with one pitch tied behind his back. There's no pitch data for the game, but Dan Hayes has a rough tally:
Of the 85 pitches Sale threw, only three or four were sliders. He focused on fastball command, a work in progress he said, and was pleased to get up and down six times.
Sale yielded a double, triple and a homer. But he also picked off a base runner for a second straight game, an aspect of his game he has worked on this spring.
It's curious that he's made his move to first a point of emphasis, because it seemed like he already made the leap in that regard. Sale turned off the spigot for baserunners after the 2013 season:
- 2012: 14 steals in 24 attempts
- 2013: 19-for-21
- 2014: 4-for-8
- 2015: 5-for-9
That said, he's only picked off five baserunners over the last three years after six in his first three years as a starter, so there is the potential for a few more cheap outs he couldn't or didn't get before. He got enough bad swings to show that he'll get his usual share of legit outs, and reminded White Sox fans why the organization puts up with his explosions:
Adam Eaton, meanwhile, wore a glove in a Cactus League game for the first time all spring, which helps partially cover his ill-advised description of Drake LaRoche as a "team leader" earlier in the day. The Sox had initially set March 23 as the return date, but Eaton's shoulder was ready to go a several days ahead of schedule, and he said even that might be a little conservative.
He also, for the first time in his White Sox career, played a corner position, lining up in left field with Austin Jackson in center.
Robin Ventura says he doesn't have a firm plan yet for the outfield mix:
Sox manager Robin Ventura said his plan for how he will use Eaton, Jackson, Avisail Garcia and Melky Cabrera in the outfield will evolve based on opponents and player performance.
He also likely will use a combination of that group at designated hitter after the unexpected retirement of Adam LaRoche, and he said he expects them to accept the role.
"They don't like it all that much, but that's where we're at," Ventura said. "The pride factor is they want to play. I totally understand that, but we're in a situation that somebody might have to (be the DH) on occasion."
There are a couple schools of thought for corner spots, and Eaton falls in between them. In terms of range, he should probably be in right, as a missed read becomes a triple in that corner more often than it does in left, and I'd trust his routes and range more than I would with Avisail Garcia and Melky Cabrera.
When it comes to arms, though, Eaton's throwing isn't nearly as crisp. It's not entirely a matter of arm strength, as Statcast recorded a 100-mph throw from him last season. I'm guessing it's a combination of the injury and mechanics that limit his effectiveness, and so it probably makes sense to not overtax a guy who is coming off surgery.
Any potential outfield alignment seems like it's not using the best of everybody's talent, but it still should be a better group than they fielded last year. And even though there's way too much nobody knows about L'Affaire LaRoche, it's nice to be talking about talent again, even if only temporarily.