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White Sox should make Chris Sale their closer, not put him in the rotation

White Sox left-hander Chris Sale had 2-2 record eight saves 2.79 ERA last season. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

White Sox left-hander Chris Sale had a 2-2 record, eight saves and a 2.79 ERA last season. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 27, 2012 9:57AM



The White Sox began the week tossing promotions around.

Buddy Bell had a snazzy new vice-president title thrown on the sign in his parking spot, and Nick Capra was named director of player development.

Even left-hander Chris Sale took time out after his return from honeymooning in Maui to discuss his promotion. Sale, 22, is preparing to make the jump from proven reliever to promising starter.

Too bad Sale’s promotion might be the one the Sox regret in early May.

There’s no question Sale has the stuff to be a big-league starter: four quality pitches, a fastball that can hit the dance floor in triple digits and short-term memory when it comes to watching his mistakes get hit over the outfield wall.

In talking to several scouts, one said the lanky flamethrower has “ace potential.’’

But Sale also has staying power as a ninth-inning presence. As one member of the Sox’ organization said recently, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they have to pull Sale out of the rotation and make him the closer by the end of April.’’

General manager Ken Williams had better hope that scenario doesn’t take place, but that’s what happens when you build a team with ifs and hopes.

The kid wants to be a starter, period. That was evident in Sale’s teleconference to start SoxFest week.

The difference in his tone when he spoke about taking the ball every fifth day compared to when he rehashed the last two years as a reliever was night and day.

“Don’t get me wrong, I had a good time and good moments out of the bullpen, but I guess you can say [starting] is something I have worked toward and am very excited that it’s here and I was given the opportunity,” Sale said. “I truly believe I can do it.’’

Belief in his ability is not the problem here. Sale can go out there every five days and dominate, and it won’t mean a thing if the Sox can’t find an arm to consistently close out the ninth inning, especially with the Jekyll-and-Hyde offense the Sox are expected to have.

Last April is the most recent reminder. The team couldn’t close games and dug a division-race hole that they never seemed to get out of.

The problem is the Sox’ borderline-arrogant belief that closers grow on trees.

Lefty Matt Thornton might be the early leader out of the gate to close, but there’s no guarantee he’ll even be around for the start of spring camp with continued speculation that Williams is still looking to shed salary.

That would leave right-hander Addison Reed.

Reed’s résumé? He throws hard. That’s it. Maybe he’s good; maybe he’s a bust. Just another maybe for the Sox.

Sale has shown he can handle the ninth. He has ninth-inning stuff.

And that’s why the trade of Sergio Santos to Toronto for Nestor Molina in December is still a head-scratcher.

Santos wasn’t the perfect closer by any means (30 saves with a 3.55 ERA), but he was fiscally affordable, improving in the role and had very little wear and tear on his arm, considering he was a former infielder.

Even Sale thought his starting dreams were on hold when the Santos deal was announced. He immediately reached out to pitching coach Don Cooper for answers.

“There is nothing like being the last guy in line and having that pressure on you,’’ Sale said. “Those are things you love to do. I thought for maybe a little bit — since they traded [Santos] — that I would be back in the bullpen.’’

Cooper reassured him that the starting plan was still in place, and Sale has spent the offseason preparing for it.

That’s fine, but the Sox can’t ignore the obvious.

Sale will be limited to 140-150 innings. Williams already has said that entails skipping starts when they can and messing with the rotation during the All-Star break. Basically, it means another year of watching a starting rotation nurse off Cooper.

That scenario can’t be described as getting the maximum out of your talent.

If this team is “rebuilding,’’ like Williams said, why not put guys in the spots they can best flourish as well as help the team? If Williams is so high on Molina, as he gushed when he acquired him, get him ready to start.

Look, Sale might be a great seven-inning pitcher.

Too bad that won’t mean a thing in the ninth.



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