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Chris Sale reluctant to tone down his competitiveness

Updated: March 31, 2014 9:46AM

Leave well enough alone, Chris Sale says.

The White Sox’ 25-year-old ace left-hander has talent, resolve,
intelligence, good work habits — the list of pluses can go on. So what if he flies off the handle every now and then?

Sale, who will make his second consecutive Opening Day start Monday against the Minnesota Twins, is an intense competitor known for boiling over in the dugout after a bad inning. More than once after giving up a home run, he has lost his cool and, trying to throw the next pitch through the catcher, lost control on his arm side. In one such instance last July, he buzzed then-Detroit
Tigers slugger Prince Fielder.

That didn’t look good, especially to the Tigers.

‘‘He’s sitting 90 [or] 93 mph for most of the game, and all of a sudden the guy uncorks 95 mph at his face,’’ Tigers pitcher Phil Coke said. ‘‘C’mon.’’

When Tigers reliever Luke Putkonen threw behind Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez a half-inning later, the benches emptied. After the dust settled, Sale called Fielder to clear the air. At the All-Star Game two weeks later, Sale sought out Tigers manager Jim Leyland to smooth things over with a conversation that left Leyland calling Sale ‘‘my new favorite enemy.’’

As Sale seeks to find the right balance between competitive fire, self-control and diplomacy, he sees no need to toy with the mechanisms that make him tick.

‘‘I don’t think so,’’ he said. ‘‘All that stuff, you are who you are. You don’t want to change too much. I mean, I don’t want to beat up water coolers and throw bubble gum all over the dugout. But, you know, if it happens, it happens. That’s what makes me who I am and the pitcher I am, so I’m not going to change it just because someone wants me to change.’’

Sale already has a chip on his shoulder after getting wind of where the Sox stand with preseason prognosticators. The consensus is fourth place in the American League Central, but Sale sees enough improvements around him to envision higher, and ‘‘nobody is picking us to do anything’’ is a tried-and-true cry that has served as
motivation since the dead-ball era.

‘‘This year is a little different because, after last year, we’re out to prove people wrong,’’ Sale said. ‘‘It’s like we haven’t even played a game, and people are writing us off already. But with the guys we brought in and the guys we held on to, we have a realistic shot. I know it’s going to be tough. No question that Detroit is one of the best teams in the league with two Cy Youngs [Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer] pitching and an MVP two years in a row [Miguel Cabrera] in the lineup. But crazier things have happened. It’s not like we’re going up against the impossible.’’

Sale calls Jose Quintana the Sox’ most consistently good returning starting pitcher from last season, expects a better John Danks 18 months removed from surgery on his left shoulder, is impressed with Felipe Paulino’s ‘‘electric stuff’’ and liked how Erik Johnson ‘‘pitched with guts’’ after being called up from Class AAA last season. He likes the rotation.

And what to expect of Sale?

‘‘It’s more of the same, honestly, just kind of sharpening my tools,’’ he said. ‘‘I’d like to stay on track with where I’ve been and move forward from there. I’d like to make all my starts, pitch 200 innings and keep my team in every game I pitch in. And do a little better against Cleveland [0-4, 8.61 ERA last season].’’

And keep the fire burning.


Twitter: @CST_soxvan

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