Matt Thornton blows save for White Sox; Chris Sale to become closer
May 4, 2012 11:00PM
Updated: June 6, 2012 8:10AM
DETROIT — The White Sox’ surprising decision Friday to move left-hander Chris Sale back to the bullpen didn’t go over well with Sale, who had a short but successful run as a starter but is losing the gig because of a tender elbow.
“It caught me off-guard; I really wasn’t expecting it,’’ Sale said after the Sox’ deflating 5-4 loss against the Detroit Tigers on Jhonny Peralta’s two-run home run off Matt Thornton.
But Sale had been dealing with what he called a “sore and tender’’ left elbow since his start in Oakland on April 25 and rather than risk his longtime health, the Sox decided to move Sale back to the bullpen, where he’ll assume the closer’s role. Rookie left-hander Hector Santiago (7.36 ERA), who saved four games in six opportunities, will try to get back on track in middle relief.
Manager Robin Ventura said Sale, who’s 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA, will be available to close Monday, when the Sox play two games in Cleveland. Sale’s elbow isn’t sore enough to shelve him, and he says it feels better as he pitches through it, but it’s tender enough to make the Sox rethink his future as a starter.
“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. “We’re not making this decision based on what’s best for the team because obviously he’s starting and doing well. ... 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 has been the Sox’ second-best starter behind American League pitcher of the month Jake Peavy (4-1, 1.99 ERA), who gave up three runs in 72/3 innings and left with a 4-3 lead.
Sale pitched in the bullpen last year and saved eight games.
“Chris is going to be fine,’’ Cooper said. “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.”
Sale tried to make a case to stay in the rotation.
“I tried, but when you got professional guys who have been there and done that and know what’s going on, there’s really not much to fight,’’ Sale said. “I was more upset with myself and more disappointed in myself letting the team down. They kept reassuring me I wasn’t letting the team down.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow.”
The bullpen is stacked with four lefties — Sale, Santiago, Will Ohman and Thornton, who watched Peralta tip an 0-2 pitch before making a bad pitch. That put a bad finish on what otherwise was a good night for Peavy — who threw 122 pitches, his high with the Sox — and Gordon Beckham, who went 3-for-4 with an RBI double and two-run homer.
Sale sat in the bullpen to get re-acclimated to his surroundings. He was emotional talking about the Sox’ decision.
“I know 100 percent, without a doubt, these guys have my best interests in mind,’’ Sale said. “I respect that, and I’m just going with the plan.”
Asked to describe the health of his arm, Sale said, “I don’t think it’s bad. It doesn’t hurt. It’s sore, tender. It takes a little bit to get going. Once I get going, it’s fine, but it’s something they thought was an issue, and they had to do something about it, and they did.’’
General manager Ken Williams, a big proponent of putting Sale in the rotation — perhaps more than Cooper — deferred to Ventura when asked to comment on the move.