CLEVELAND (MCT) — Four games into the regular season, and Chris Sale already is setting the pace for the rest of the rotation.
In his first major league start, Sale pitched 6 2/3 innings of three-hit ball and was the beneficiary of early run support as the White Sox coasted to a 4-2 victory over the Indians.
Sale, 23, looked as comfortable as he did two years ago at Florida Gulf Coast University, where he last started before the Sox made him their first-round pick in the 2010 draft.
After allowing a hit to Aaron Cunningham with two out in the second, Sale retired 12 consecutive batters.
He walked two and struck out five and was effective throwing all of his pitches for strikes that kept the Indians’ off balance.
“He’s got more than a fastball, and that’s one of the reasons he’ll be able to go a couple times through a lineup,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s not just relying on his velocity. His breaking stuff is getting better. You have to have more than a fastball to be able to go through a lineup a couple times.”
After making 79 relief appearances to start his major league career, Sale admitted he was nervous before his first start.
“That goes with the territory,” said Sale, who pitched in front of several family members. “I try to channel it toward pitching. I try not to be scared of pitching but motivated to go out there and do my job.”
Although Sale’s transition from reliever to starter wasn’t wildly popular among some Sox observers, his final two spring starts in which he struck out 13 in 10 innings and allowed only two runs reinforced the Sox’s commitment to him joining the rotation.
“I think people are (wondering) if he can hold up,” Ventura said. “And we probably could have left him in there. What we got in the bullpen, we felt comfortable just bringing him out after the first start of the year.”
Sale was the beneficiary of home runs by Alejandro De Aza and A.J. Pierzynski in the first that staked him to a 3-0 lead. De Aza’s homer was the first leadoff homer by a Sox player since Scott Podsednik at Detroit on Oct. 2, 2009.
Brent Morel snapped an 0-for-10 skid with an RBI single in the fifth that was welcome, especially after closer Hector Santiago allowed a home run to Jose Lopez to start the ninth. But Santiago struck out the final two batters.
Despite the home run, Sox relievers have allowed only one run in their first 92/3 innings. Rookies Addison Reed, Nate Jones and Santiago have accounted for 51/3 of those innings.
“Those guys have the opportunity to be pretty good and to be big leaguers for a long time,” Pierzynski said. “They know that, and they are being given the opportunity, which is awesome.
“I hope they continue to get better, especially this year while I’m here.”