Chris Sale’s approach might change but demeanor won’t

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Chris Sale pitches to Michael Brantley of the Cleveland Indians last July. (Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Chris Sale plans to bring a different tack this season — fewer strikeouts and fewer pitches is the goal — but don’t expect the intense, short-tempered left-hander to mellow on the mound.

The emphasis will be throwing more first-pitch strikes, which means immediate attack mode with every hitter. And the Sale who went at it with Victor Martinez in Detroit two seasons ago and with Yordano Ventura at U.S. Cellular Field last season will have that familiar reddish hue around the hindquarters.

“Here’s the thing,’’ Sale said. “When you get adrenaline going and in the heat of the moment, from the outside looking in, it’s a lot easier to say I shouldn’t have done that. But, no, I don’t look at either of those and wish I had them back. I was actually telling [former Tigers and new Sox catcher Alex] Avila, the other team isn’t supposed to like me anyway, so what do I care if they don’t like me a little more?

“Those things don’t bother me. If I had hit five guys in a row for no reason, maybe that’s something you take back. But being intense and fiery, there is no apology needed for that stuff.’’

To watch Sale pitch is to enjoy beauty and beast all at once. Pitching purists marvel at the artistry of Sale filling the strike zone with three plus pitches. Brass-knucklers love the sharp “Let’s go” edge.

Ventura and Sale were in the middle of the Sox’ bench-clearer against the Royals, and Sale went looking for Ventura in the visitors’ clubhouse afterward. In 2014, Sale gestured toward the outfield stands and made like he was looking through binoculars, believing Martinez had a sign-stealer parked there. He also hit Martinez — who has owned Sale during his career — in the shoulder with a pitch.

“Those are the things you learn from,’’ Sale said. “I was actually talking to my son about this the other day. Sometimes he gets down on himself when he makes a mistake and thinks he’s going to get in trouble. People are going to make mistakes. That’s how you figure out what’s right or wrong. I was telling him, ‘You’re going to make mistakes. Just learn from those.’

“So if I’m trying to pick fights or I’m plunking guys on purpose six or seven times a year, that’s when it’s too much. But in the heat of the moment, when tempers are high and that stuff happens, I think it’s all right. You need a little of that.’’

Sale, who set a club record with 274 strikeouts last year, also sees a need to cut down on pitch counts and likely will leave the record in the books, putting an even greater emphasis on throwing the first pitch for a strike and getting more outs early in counts. It’s about pitching deeper into games, throwing fewer pitches, being stronger at the end of the season and prolonging his career.

“There’s no doubt pitchers love punchouts,’’ Sale said. “But striking out 12 guys over five innings isn’t doing anyone a whole lot of good.

“You don’t want to get too far away from what has made you successful, but 123 pitches over seven innings is a lot to handle over 30 starts. Try to get quicker, more efficient outs instead of five or six pitches per guy.’’

Sale sees 10 fewer pitches a game over 30 starts adding to three more games of life in his arm.

“It’s especially important for October aspirations,’’ he said. “All these things are about finding a formula to get right for the postseason because that’s what we’re here for.’’

Sale talked postseason — he has never pitched in one — on Day 1 of camp last week, and that will be his driving force. He’s a major reason the Sox have a shot, and he’ll take as many shots as needed to get there.

Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.


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