White Sox return Sale to starting rotation
Lefty set to start Saturday's game against Kansas City
CHICAGO -- Chris Sale's return to relief pitching turned out to be short-lived indeed.
The White Sox announced on Friday that Sale will return to the starting rotation and will take the mound on Saturday against the Royals. Sale will replace left-hander Eric Stults, who was originally scheduled to start Saturday's middle game.
"He's back in [the rotation]," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said before Friday's series opener.
Last week, the White Sox made the surprise announcement that Sale was having trouble with a tender elbow and was being moved to the bullpen as the team's closer in an effort to protect his arm. The decision was all the more puzzling because Sale had pitched well over his first five starts, going 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA.
As it turns out, Sale was able to talk his way back into the rotation.
"Let's just say I really, really thought I could do this," Sale said. "This is something that's been a dream of mine and a passion of mine for very long, and at the end of the day, I felt that I could do this and felt poorly that I set a goal to do this and fell drastically short.
"I felt like I was letting my teammates down and felt like I was depending on other people to pick up my slack."
Sale made one relief appearance, allowing one unearned run on Tuesday at Cleveland. When the club returned to Chicago on Thursday, Sale underwent an MRI, which the left-hander said was identical to the MRI he underwent after being selected in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.
"MRI is clean and pristine," White Sox general manager Ken Williams said. "He's going to pitch."
Williams said the club prides itself on protecting its young pitchers and will continue to monitor Sale closely now that his one-week hiatus from the bullpen is over.
"We are very conservative in our approach with regards to the care of particularly our pitchers," Williams said. "I think our history, when you look at all the injury reports over the last dozen years, will show you that.
"The course of action that we've taken with [Sale] has not been unlike the course of action we've taken with many of our Minor League guys in such situations."
So what changed since last week?
"The only thing that changed was that when the expression of general soreness turns into 'I feel pain in my elbow' and 'I feel discomfort in my elbow,'" Williams said. "It's beyond the general soreness that we've come to expect."
Williams said the 23-year-old Sale was unyielding in his desire to pitch out of the rotation when they spoke on the phone during the White Sox recent road trip.
"I'm really proud of him, because he stood up for himself," Williams said. "The reason why this changed is that when Robin Ventura said he was going to the bullpen, that was a course of action. That was the game plan based on what [Sale] had communicated to our medical staff.
"What changed is Chris Sale's phone call to me, saying, 'No, it's not exactly described as pain. It's more general soreness. It's something that I've had and I can get through this. And he was adamant about it. He was adamant to the point where he almost crossed the line. And I like that."
Sale met with Williams and his staff before Friday's game, when the final decision was made to return him to the starting role that he spent the offseason preparing for.
"We're all on the same side and I truly believe that," Sale said. "They've had my best interests in mind since the day I got here. They would rather be too cautious than not cautious enough. Hey, I've got no complaints with that because at the end of the day they're truly looking out for my best interests."
Sale pitched well out of the White Sox bullpen during his first two Major League seasons, but Williams said the plan all along has been to use him as a starter.
"You certainly have more value as a starter," Williams said. "As a team, we're better if Chris Sale is in the starting rotation. So it's not about the team. It's about the health of Chris Sale being first and foremost. That's what we had to do, to take that extra amount of care to make sure everybody was on the same page."
While the White Sox will watch Sale closely, they aren't overly worried about the lanky pitcher's mechanics, and there won't be any hard-and-fast limits in terms of pitches or innings.
"I don't know about pitch counts," Ventura said. "I think it's again a unique situation where you're monitoring. It's the same kind of monitoring that was going on before. You probably look at it and keep tabs on it a little more."
For his part, Sale is glad to be back in the rotation and ready to go despite the disruption to his routine.
"I've still been doing the things I need to do, running and working out," Sale said. "I've really felt that I've needed to not worry about this too much. Just stay on the course, on the path, and keeping coming to play because at the end of the day, if I'm letting this affect my on-field performance, nobody's getting anything done."
Bradford Doolittle is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.