suntimes
SOAKING 
Weather Updates

Sox’ Sale is younger than Samardzija and can win without his best stuff

Who is the best starting pitcher in Chicago?





Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: May 28, 2013 12:23PM



There’s no shortage of evidence to support the case for Chris Sale as the best starting pitcher in Chicago and a better choice than Jeff Samardzija to build a starting rotation around.

Sale, 24, is younger than Samardzija, 28, but mature beyond his years. He’s left-handed, and, as the baseball world has noticed, is very good. His greatness was evident when he struck out 15 Tampa Bay Rays with an unhittable slider last year, his first season as a starter (he made the All-Star team), and when he one-hit the Los Angeles Angels with no walks on ESPN with an unhittable changeup three Sunday nights ago.

An indicator of how good Sale is are the days he doesn’t dominate. On the occasional starts when his command isn’t at its best, his slider isn’t biting big or his fastball is a tick below normal, you’ll look up in the seventh inning and see the Sox leading 3-1.

Sale pitches well without his best stuff, which a lot of pitchers in their 30s are still learning to do. He already has figured it out.

“The maturity at his age goes way beyond his years,’’ teammate Jake Peavy said.

Sale thrives on competition, especially with his back to the wall. With runners in scoring position and two outs, hitters are batting .200 against him. Against Samardzija in those tough spots? .280.

Competitive fire doesn’t make Sale unique, but he embraces the role of staff ace. During spring training, Sale respectfully said that Peavy, the 2007 National League Cy Young winner and veteran leader of the staff, was the right choice to start Opening Day. But it was tough for Sale to hide that he coveted the nod.

“He’s a bona fide No. 1, and that’s what those guys do,’’ Peavy said after Sale prevented the Sox from getting swept by the Angels that Sunday night. “The thing I love about Chris is he wants that responsibility. He embraces it; he takes it on. He wants to be the guy. There’s certain guys who say and maybe act like they want it, and they can take it or leave it. Chris relishes the opportunity to go out there on big stages.’’

What’s more, Sale only might be scratching the surface. He is the hare and the Shark’s the tortoise leaving the starting gates of their careers. Samardzija made his major-league debut at 23 in 2008. At 23, Sale was putting a 17-8 record and 3.05 ERA in the books. He finished sixth in American League Cy Young voting.

Going into Monday, Sale was seventh in ERA (2.53) in the AL, second in WHIP (walks/hits per innings pitched) at .922 and tied for second in wins above replacement for pitchers at 2.7. Samardzija had a 3.25 ERA, 1.131 WHIP and 1.1 WAR.

The only battle the skinny Sale loses against former football star Samardzija is that frame. Can it withstand stress on his arm with his John Candelaria-like, across-the-body delivery? Sale missed a start last week with tendinitis in his shoulder and briefly went to the bullpen last season because of a tender elbow, but he has never been on the disabled list. After missing a start, he said Monday that he feels as good as new.

Sale said he feels “better than any other start leading up to now. Not only was it good for my shoulder, but my elbow feels great, too, not throwing for a few days. My body feels better, so hopefully this will last for the rest of the season.’’



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.