Is Chris Sale getting better in his third year as a starting pitcher?
“Yes, because he’s controlling his emotions a little more,’’ pitching coach Don Cooper said last week. “He’s staying under control better. He’s been growing each year.’’
If Cooper — who missed a second straight game while fighting the effects of vertigo — watched Sale pitch in the White Sox’ 3-1 win against the Kansas City Royals Monday, it was on a television screen. He undoubtedly noticed Sale get angry at himself for falling behind 1-0 to Danny Valencia with two runners on and one out in the sixth. But he gathered himself, struck out Valencia and watched Alcides Escobar take a 96-mph fastball down the middle for his third strikeout of the inning.
Emotion is OK, Cooper says, but problems arise if Sale overthrows because of it.
“He doesn’t come out of his shoes unnecessarily as much,’’ Cooper said. “It’s something you still have to watch. That’s the big thing.’’
Sale, who lowered his ERA to 2.03 with one run allowed over seven innings while looking to improve his record to 9-1, knows it. He has blown up a time or two off the mound, most notably when he destroyed a bat after surrendering a 5-0 lead in Anaheim on June 7. The only damage done, besides a loss, was a bat.
“If I had come in and sat down and was like, ‘Whatever,’ I don’t feel like that is competing,’’ Sale said. “When you truly care about what you’re doing and what happens after that that’s when that stuff happens. I had been out there for two hours and it all unravels with one pitch.’’
But reeling it in on the mound is a different story.
“Every once in a while I’ll get a little upset of myself,’’ he said. “I expect more from myself than I should, probably. You have to hold yourself to a higher standard to reach goals you want to reach. I need to change some things but a little of that is good.’’
Even former teammate Jake Peavy, whose screams, stomps and curses on and around the mound made Sale’s shows of emotion seem tame, advised Sale to scale it back.
“I’m not here to tell you this is wrong. … but maybe dial it back just a little bit,’’ Peavy told him.
Pitching on 11 days rest except for one inning in the All-Star Game, Sale threw 107 pitches over seven innings and left with a 3-1 lead. He struck out eight, walked one, and gave up seven hits, including an RBI single to Valencia in the fourth.
The Royals had three hits in the fourth, which ended when Valencia was thrown out trying to score on Brett Hayes’ double to left. Left fielder Alejandro De Aza, shortstop Alexei Ramirez and catcher Tyler Flowers executed their roles on the relay.
The Sox led 2-0 in the first on Adam Dunn’s bases loaded two-run single against Jeremy Guthrie and added a third run in the sixth when Dunn led off with a walk and eventually scored on Gordon Beckham’s sacrifice fly to center.