Think Chris Sale is tough to hit? Try catching him.
White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers said the Sox ace is so unpredictable on the mound, that even he often isn’t sure what to expect.
The inconsistent action on Sale’s pitches, particularly his fastball, can make for an adventurous day behind the plate.
“Sometimes it sinks. Sometimes it cuts. Sometimes it goes straight,” Flowers said. “He doesn’t really know what it’s gonna do. I don’t know what it’s gonna do. The hitter certainly doesn’t know what it’s gonna do.”
Sale can throw a 98 mph fastball and a 78 mph changeup. He can also offer both pitches at 88 mph.
The movement, the changing of speeds and the pinpoint command of all three of his pitches – fastball, changeup, slider – has contributed to a historic run of starts.
“All of his pitches play off each other,” Flowers said. “He’s got some that are hard, some slow, some that fade, some that cut, a sweeping slider, a little misdirection, something breaking in on left-handers and another that breaks away on lefties.
“He’ll throw a fastball in there to certain guys at 88 with a heavy sink,” Flowers continued. “Other guys he’ll throw it 98 and changeups at 78 or 90. And there’s no signs for that.”
After Friday night’s eight-inning, 14-strikeout performance against the Rangers, Sale joined Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez as the only pitchers to punch out 12 or more hitters in five straight starts.
“Those guys are the best at what they did,” Sale said. “It’s an honor to get my name mentioned with them.”
Sale has struck out at least one batter in 35 consecutive innings and sports a 1.19 ERA over his last six starts.
He’s been so dominant that even after throwing 111 pitches Friday night there was a vocal contingent of fans across social media who wanted him back in for the ninth instead of $46 million closer David Robertson.
Sale lobbied to stay in but was taken out in favor of the closer, who was unable to hold the 1-0 lead.
“If it was our last game of the year, the playoffs, Game 7 or something, there’s a possibility he could do it because he’d get the whole offseason,” Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “But you want him healthy for the rest of the season, and I said it last night, he’s kind of like the crown jewel, you have to take care of him and keep him healthy.”
Regardless of that decision, Sale has been the one exception on a team failing to live up to preseason expectations.
He’s leading the league with 119 strikeouts and 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Sale’s ERA has dropped from 5.93 on May 6 to 2.74 today.
He’s been so good that Flowers almost expects dominance every time the left-hander takes the mound.
“It’s a lot of fun catching him,” Flowers said, “but more so just because I feel like a genius calling the pitches.”