By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) — After missing five weeks with a sore forearm/elbow, White Sox ace Chris Sale was on top of his game Thursday evening.
Sale started the contest by striking out the first three Yankee hitters. He struck out 10 in six innings (85 pitches), allowing a lone single to Zoilo Almonte with two outs in the sixth, helping the White Sox to an eventual 3-2 win.
Sale had earlier struck out 11 of the 12 men he registered for outs in his lone minor-league rehab outing last Thursday. Coming back after a long time off was a panacea for the left-handed ace.
“We had a plan tonight,” Sale said after knowing he would be out before 100 pitches. “I pitch to win, not to throw no-hitters or perfect games.”
The pitcher was at his best, striking out seven of the first 10 men he faced.
“A lot of it tonight was not getting over-hyped,” Sale said after running his record to 4-0 with a 1.89 ERA. “It was the first one back and considering the team we were facing, I was just trying to focus on task at hand.”
The 25-year-old Sale hadn’t pitched in a major league game since April 17. He threw a career-high 127 pitches against Boston in a seven-inning no decision. Prior to Thursday’s game, Chicago general manager Rick Hahn admitted that he would help administer the pitch count for Sale this first time out off the DL.
“Normally, you have guys at a certain level of strength where they are without restriction on a given night,” Hahn said. “We are still in the process of rebuilding Chris back to his previous level. We have absolutely had conversations what to expect tonight. I assure you he will be watched closely for any signs of fatigue or stress. We will respond accordingly.”
There was plenty of second-guessing, including by yours truly, about the 127 pitches Sale threw on a cold April evening when he was injured. Sale spent a lot of his down time dodging media questions about his eventual return date.
“There was never a date we were shooting for,” he said. “It was all based on feel and how I felt. What I respected the most was that no one was pushing me to get out there as quickly as possible. We were all on the same thought of getting this thing 100 percent right and go from there.”
Sale is the first Sox lefty to start the season 4-0 since Mark Buehrle began the 2009 season 5-0.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.