White Sox ace Chris Sale isn’t one to get complacent

Written By BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN Staff Reporter Posted: 02/23/2014, 02:41am
Array Chicago White Sox's Trayce Thompson runs home after a solo home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the seventh inning of a spring training baseball game on Thursday, March 29, 2012, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — At 24, Chris Sale has needed a minimal amount of time to achieve what most major-leaguers never do.

In two seasons as a starter, he has made two All-Star Game appearances, including one last season at Citi Field in New York in which he pitched two perfect innings, earned the victory and likely would have been named most valauble player had retiring Yankees closer Mariano Rivera not received it for sentimental reasons.

In between two top-six finishes in American League Cy Young Award voting, Sale signed a five-year, $32.5 million contract that is good for him and the Sox.

The lefty now occupies a locker on a wall of the Sox’ clubhouse at Camelback Ranch with veterans Paul Konerko, Gordon Beckham, John Danks, Matt Lindstrom, Adam Dunn and Scott Downs. He’s the youngest in the bunch, but he’s the Sox’ franchise player.

Just the other day, Danks called Sale ‘‘the best pitcher in baseball.’’ But the high praise, big money and lofty achievements don’t seem to have changed him.

‘‘I try to be the same person I’ve always been,’’ Sale said Friday. ‘‘I have these guys [nodding toward Dunn] to keep me humble, poking fun of me. I’m still carrying the Xbox on the road. [Money] doesn’t make it anything different. I just have more stuff, I guess.’’

There seems to be little concern that success will make Sale complacent. He’s a max-effort, full throttle competitor who needs to be reeled in every now and again.

Sale worked diligently during the offseason on his strength and fitness, and, even though he’s only three pounds heavier (182) than the weight he pitched at last season, the 6-6 string bean is stronger, strength and conditioning coordinator Allen Thomas said.

Early in camp, Sale said he feels stronger, too.

‘‘I think I feel a little better physically,’’ he said. ‘‘I started throwing later this [offseason], and that helped me out. The last few years, I sort of came in here and maintained.’’

Sale had 10 or 12 bullpen sessions under his belt when he came to camp last year. He had four or five this year.

‘‘This year, I want to come in here and build up, to have a little more at the back end,’’ he said. ‘‘I want to build up to the season and not to spring.’’

There are minor things Sale will be tweaking this spring, but he said his focus will be on the basics.

‘‘You can talk about the little micro baseball things, but it’s [about] locating pitches, first-pitch strikes, making put-away pitches, damage control, those kinds of things,’’ he said. ‘‘You can always get better, no matter who you are and what you’ve done.’’

When Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw signed his seven-year, $215 million contract during the offseason, it underscored what a bargain Sale’s was.

‘‘I think it’s awesome, especially what he’s done the last two years,’’ Sale said. ‘‘Under 2.00 ERA, two Cy Youngs, 200 innings like rolling out of bed. I don’t look at it and hold my head down. If you talk about being underpaid, you don’t have much to talk about.’’

Sale is signed through 2017, and the Sox have a sweet deal with options for 2018 and 2019 at $12.5 million and $13.5 million.

‘‘If I was to go back, I would do the same thing,’’ Sale said. ‘‘It was security for myself, my family. . . . I don’t have to worry about arbitration or free agency. I just wake up every day and do what I’ve always done — go to the field and play baseball. The rest is taken care of.’’

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CST_soxvan

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