GLENDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox’ franchise player, Jose Abreu, is ready to go.
Their franchise pitcher is a little behind and won’t be traveling north with the team for Opening Day, but left-hander Chris Sale is close.
If six innings and 90 pitches against Cincinnati Reds Class A prospects on a back field at Camelback Ranch told us anything, it’s that Sale’s right foot is healing up nicely.
Working at a Mark Buehrle-type pace — “It’s hot, man’’ was his explanation for working fast — Sale pumped his fastball up to the plate at 94-96 mph, got 13 strikeouts and gave up no walks and two hits. One hit was a home run to 2014 second-round draft choice Taylor Sparks, an opposite-field poke over a not-to-deep fence in right field on a changeup Sale left up in the zone. He also hit a batter with an up-and-in fastball.
Besides that, Sale didn’t give the kids much to hit.
“I felt really good,’’ Sale said. “It was nice to get back on the mound and do what I’m supposed to do, honestly.
‘‘It stinks being on rehab the whole time, so it was nice to be a pitcher again and be in a game situation.’’
Abreu, the centerpiece of the Sox’ lineup, has followed his Rookie of the Year season that saw him lead the majors in slugging percentage and finish fourth in American League MVP voting by hitting .518 in the Cactus League. Sale, who was third in Cy Young voting, didn’t pitch in a game until Wednesday. Until then, it was bullpen sessions and live batting practice.
But Sale, who suffered an avulsion fracture and sprained ankle, has healed quickly and remains on target to miss one start. He’ll likely pitch against the Minnesota Twins on April 12 at U.S. Cellular Field, which would be the team’s sixth game.
Sale didn’t have to field much, mainly because of all the strikeouts. He did bounce off the mound and head toward first on a grounder to the right side but didn’t get in on the play. There were no noticeable signs of discomfort. Everything looks normal.
“Yeah, trying to move around a little bit,’’ he said. “It felt fine, though. It’s reactions, not putting too much emphasis on it being hurt. You’re not thinking about anything but getting outs. It was nice to be able to do that and prove to myself that I’m ready to go.’’
Sale will stay back to pitch another minor-league game Monday. With one day to go here, the Sox are eager to get on with the regular season.
“Spring training is spring training,” Sale said. “We’re not putting a lot of emphasis on these games and the results of these games. The main thing is to get your reps and get out of here healthy. We’re here to win games, but we have guys who can show up and play when the lights are on. That’s what matters.”
Sale needs to show up, and everything points to that happening on the opening homestand.
“Sure, we need that guy,’’ said Jeff Samardzija, who is taking Sale’s Opening Day start. “To have him coming and get him into the rotation, that’s a big thing. We’ve kind of seen different guys in that slot, so once we get situated and rolling and we just see one guy after another going out there and dominating, then we can get in that rhythm as a staff. We need that guy. We need him to be ready and be healthy.’’