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Chris Sale’s start sullied by sorry first inning in loss to Royals

Sox starter Chris Sale walked first two batters he faced. “I just didn’t have commoff-speed stuff early” he said. |

Sox starter Chris Sale walked the first two batters he faced. “I just didn’t have the command of the off-speed stuff early,” he said. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 14, 2012 8:34AM

The health and well-being of pitcher Chris Sale is the White Sox’ prime concern, general manager Ken Williams has insisted. But preserving Sale’s arm and limiting its wear and tear might become a vexing challenge for all concerned.

In his first inning Saturday since his abbreviated departure from the rotation, the valued left-hander put a fan base on edge. He threw 42 pitches, including the first seven as balls, walked the first two batters and then gave up four singles before the inning ended with three runs crossing.

At least the night got better for Sale, who lasted five innings, threw only 61 more pitches and allowed four more hits but no more runs.

The Sox saw their three-game winning streak end in the 5-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals at U.S. Cellular Field, but Sale (3-2) pronounced himself fit afterward. His only “pain’’ was an inability to control his offspeed pitches early.

“The first inning was terrible,” he said. “I didn’t have any of my offspeed stuff working. I threw the ball all over the place. But I settled down after that.

“I was mentally and physically prepared for this start like any other. I just didn’t have the command of the offspeed stuff early.’’

If manager Robin Ventura was concerned about the elevated pitch count in the first inning, he chose not to dwell on it.

“The first two walks and a couple hits, but he battled,’’ Ventura said. “The way that started, to still get five [innings] was pretty good. Everyone is allowed one of those [bad starts], but he found it and got through it. You’re going to let him go until he finds it. Forty pitches in one inning is a lot, but he learned something from that, to be able to control that and still get five innings is a good effort.’’

Royals starter Luke Hochevar (3-3) was strong throughout his seven innings, allowing three singles as the Sox were held to a season low in hits and shut out for the fourth time.

The loss also dropped their home record to 6-10 and 5-7 against American League Central rivals in their last 12 meetings.

That Sale, 23, was able to rebound after the first was a comfort to the lefty, as well as his manager.

“Bouncing back was big and turned the momentum a little,’’ Sale said. “The way they were throwing the ball, they did a great job. I just got outpitched.

“After the first inning, the offspeed stuff was still spotty, and I was getting in deep counts. It’s just something to work on. But I felt great. My arm and body felt great. I just couldn’t get it together.’’

Sale said a rain delay of nearly an hour at the start of the game didn’t affect him, nor did the confusing days from his last start May 1 to Saturday. In the last week alone, Sale dealt with concerns about his elbow, then his durability as a starter, then a move to the bullpen before he pleaded his case to Williams to return to the rotation

“This is a job like any business, and I’m a big boy and can handle it,’’ he said.

Sale still was able to extend his string of starts with three runs allowed or fewer to six.

The three runs in the first were the most he has allowed in any start this season, and the seven hits he surrendered also matched his season high.

But when Sale left, Ventura got a good showing from Nate Jones, who worked 21/3 scoreless innings, before Will Ohman and Zach Stewart each gave up a run in the eighth.

Before the game, Ventura said he would monitor Sale as he always has, with input from pitching coach Don Cooper.

“We talk during the game all the time about everybody,’’ Ventura said of Cooper. “[This] doesn’t make it different the way we talk to each other.”

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