Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, Tuesday, May 27, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) ORG XMIT: CXS106
Updated: June 29, 2014 6:42AM
The more comfortable Chris Sale gets with his changeup, the more uncomfortable hitters get when they face the White Sox’ ace left-hander.
If dealing with Sale’s four-seam and two-seam fastballs and his biting slider wasn’t enough, hitters now — more than ever — have to keep an eye open for Sale’s circle change.
“It’s an effective pitch, and it’s a big part of his repertoire now,’’ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after Sale dominated the Yanks with a one-hit outing over six innings Thursday. “It neutralizes the right-handed hitters as well.’’
The slider — whether he’s back-dooring it to the outside corner on a righty hitter, throwing to the back foot of a righty or hooking it away from lefties — is tough on righties as well as lefties. Having a good changeup as a third pitch to go with very good command of his fastball is what makes Sale an elite pitcher.
“He has just gotten a better feel for it,’’ Sox manager Robin Ventura said before Sale took the mound in a rain-affected start Tuesday against the Indians. “Everybody knew about the fastball-slider. The slider is a really good pitch, too. But when you can start adding a third pitch that’s a changeup that’s that good, it becomes impressive.’’
Fewer sliders also save wear and tear on Sale’s arm, which the Sox are handling with care. When rain delayed the game for two hours after three innings with the Sox leading 1-0, Sale and Indians starter Justin Masterson were done for the night. Sale, who lowered his ERA to 1.73, allowed only a walk to Mike Aviles in the third and struck out four. The start was delayed 45 minutes because rain was anticipated, and while it didn’t rain much during the first delay, it came down hard for most of the third inning, when Conor Gillaspie had an RBI single.
Gordon Beckham made it 2-0 with a homer, his fourth, leading off the fifth against Mark Lowe.
This was Sale’s second start since coming off the disabled list with a flexor muscle strain. The worst scenario for the Sox was getting only three innings out of a Sale start, and that’s what happened. Scott Carroll, moved from the rotation to long-relief duty last week, took over when play resumed at 10:45.
Sale was a two-pitch pitcher when he broke in at the end of his rookie season of 2010 — the only player from the 2010 draft to play in the majors that season. He went 2-1 with four saves in 21 relief appearances. In ’11, he posted a 2.79 ERA in 58 relief appearances, his last time in the bullpen except for his abbreviated return in 2012 (one appearance) because of a tender elbow.
More attention was given to his changeup when he became a starter in 2012, and last season he expanded its use by throwing it to lefties.
“When you’re in the bullpen, you can throw just two pitches and be in and out,’’ Ventura said. “When you go through that second and third time through the lineup, you’re going to need something else, and that’s something he has developed.’’
After using his changeup on 19 percent of his pitches and his slider on 30 percent last season, Sale has thrown his change 31 percent of the time and his slider 18 percent, according to Brooks Baseball.
“You get all these reports that people sit on stuff, and he’s able to just go with feel,’’ Ventura said. “[Tyler Flowers] does a great job of mixing that up with him so he doesn’t get happy with one pitch. I’m sure when he’s pitching, there’s one that feels better than the other every day, but he’s able to still mix it up.’’