GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — It would have been easy for Chris Sale to vent last season given all the losses he accumulated despite delivering one dominant start after another for the Chicago White Sox.
He didn’t see the point.
Sale believes he gained valuable experience going through that and is better now in more ways than one as the White Sox try to rebound from their worst season in recent memory.
“Last year made me a better pitcher, a better teammate and a better person because anyone can start throwing stuff and swearing at people and pointing fingers, but that really made me kind of grow up in a sense of knowing that these guys are giving everything they’ve got for me and it’s just not working out,” Sale said.
“It’s not any single person’s fault. It’s not going to do me any good to grab someone and shake `em, probably because they’re bigger than me too. But you’ve got to work together and I think last year made us work together and really be closer in terms of off the field and in the clubhouse.”
The 24-year-old left-hander was one of the few bright spots on a team that dropped 99 games, the most for the White Sox since 1970, and he hopes to build on that this time, maybe even pick up a few more wins, too.
Victories were about all that were missing from an otherwise packed stats line last season, when he made the All-Star team for the second straight year and picked up the win in the midsummer classic.
Despite an 11-14 record, he ranked third in the American League in strikeouts (226) and seventh in ERA (3.07).
Four times he gave up one run or fewer and either took the loss or didn’t figure in the decision. There was also a 14-strikeout game in which he fell 2-1 to Houston last June.
“He’s even-keeled,” reliever Matt Lindstrom said. “Chris gets it. He’s mature for being 23, 24 years old. He’s been around veteran players like Jake (Peavy), John (Danks), Adam (Dunn) and they’ve kind of shown him the ropes, and he knows what he needs to do.
“He knows what kind of a clubhouse presence he needs to have, especially now that he’s going to be with the White Sox long term. He gets it. He gets it for a young kid. He’s got a good head on his shoulders.”
But it was difficult at times for him last season. There he was dominating with few wins to show for it, the product of playing on a struggling team.
The White Sox went from hitting 211 homers to 148 last season and had their run total drop from 748 to 598, last in the American League. With little support at the plate, pitching coach Don Cooper could sense Sale pressing on at least one occasion.
“He’s never pointed a finger at somebody like `why can’t you get me a run,’ never that stuff,” Cooper said.
“But when you’re in the game and you’re on the bench and with him every day, you can hear something — not even hear something, you see it. There was one game where I saw him really trying to overdo it, and I said, `Hey, don’t try to do more. What you do now is enough. You don’t need more. … You’re overdoing it.”‘
He remembers Sale’s response was along these lines: “Well, if I give up another run … ”
“That was the pressure he felt — `I can’t give up another run,”‘ Cooper said. “Every team will go through that. There’s always a guy on the team that seems to happen to.”
Manager Robin Ventura compared it to a hitter knocking one line drive after another right at a fielder. But the way Sale handled it impressed him.
“He stayed focused in his work and concentration and things like that,” Ventura said. “As a young player, sometimes that’s the learning thing you need that makes you better down the road.”
Sale just might be one of the best bargains in the majors after signing a contract that guarantees $32.5 million over five seasons last March. He’s set to earn $3.5 this season, and with the White Sox holding two team options, he’s under their control through 2019.
With huge deals going to Clayton Kershaw and Masahiro Tanaka, Sale is a bargain by comparison. He’s eased doubts over his slight frame and violent delivery and made a successful transition from the bullpen the past few seasons. Now, he is a cornerstone piece for a team that believes it can bounce back quickly.
That didn’t stop his name from landing on the trade rumor mill, but he’s glad he’s sticking around.
“I like it here, and I’d like to be here for a while, obviously,” he said. “I didn’t even know about it. I had friends and family call me, `Hey, man, you getting traded?’ I said, `What are you talking about?’ `Man, your name’s popping up all over the place.’ `What is all this about?’ I looked into it, and it was just a bunch of mixing up.”
(© 2014 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.)