Updated: May 4, 2012 8:24PM
DETROIT — The White Sox made a surprising and significant decision Friday to move Chris Sale back to the bullpen. Sale, who has had a short but successful run as a starter this season after relieving last year, has been experiencing slight tenderness in his elbow area, manager Robin Ventura said.
Rather than risk his long-term health, the Sox decided to make Sale the closer. Dylan Axelrod will move into the rotation and start Sunday in Sale’s place against the Detroit Tigers.
Ventura said Sale will be available to close Monday, when the Sox play two games in Cleveland.
“It’s not disappointing to us, it’s disappointing to him because this was something he’s always wanted to do,’’ pitching coach Don Cooper said before the Sox’ game Friday at Detroit. “We’re not making this decision based on what’s best for the team because obviously he’s starting and doing well and that would be a wonderful thing to keep him in. We feel we’re doing what’s best for him, his career and his health. It’s the best way to keep him healthy and strong.’’
Sale, 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA, has been the Sox’ second-best starter behind American League Pitcher of the Month Jake Peavy. He pitched in the bullpen last year, but his stated goal always was to start. His transition to the job had been smooth. He wasn’t happy about the move, Cooper said, and he declined to talk to reporters before the game, asking instead if he could talk Saturday.
“It’s easier to maintain that and keeping tabs on this in the bullpen than it is as a starter,’’ Cooper said. “We already know he’s a good left-handed reliever. That’s been proven over the past 11/2 years. Now we’ll be trying to make him one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball, not just in the American League. That’s all we’re at with it. Chris is going to be fine. He was upset. He wanted to continue to do this. But sometimes we have to make decisions based upon what we feel is best for that individual, and that’s what we did.”
Rookie left-hander Hector Santiago, who had four saves in six opportunities with a 7.36 ERA, moves to the middle of the bulllpen, which now is stacked with four lefties — Sale, Santiago, Matt Thornton and Will Ohman.
“When you think about it, we have four pretty good lefties out there,’’ Cooper said. “So listen, this gives Hector a chance to pitch. And pitch and develop. Go out there and play, get more comfortable, get your major league legs underneath you. Think about it ... he went from Double-A to the majors as a closer. That’s a big jump.
“He did a credible job except for two games. But he needs to go out there like we’re sending [rookie right-hander] Nate Jones out there. And [rookie right-hander Addison] Reed out there, to go out and pitch and learn the craft to get more experience. And waiting around some times to pitch and not pitch doesn’t serve him as well. This was a decision based solely - it had nothing to do with anyone else - other than Chris.”
Axelrod was outsanding at Class AAA Charlotte and has allowed one run in 31/3 innings since getting called up.
“Heck, he’s pitching Sunday, so certainly we got faith in him to go out there,’’ Cooper said.