GLENDALE, Ariz. — Chris Sale isn’t scheduled to pitch in a Cactus League game until March 19, a plan mapped out by pitching coach Don Cooper and the White Sox ace to keep him fresh during the regular season.
An off-field foot injury suffered early in spring training in 2015 limited Sale to pitching in spring games against minor leaguers. His first regular season start was April 12 against the Minnesota Twins, the Sox’ sixth game of the regular season, in which he gave up one run with eight strikeouts over six innings.
“The bottom line is he’ll be ready for the start of the season and he’s going to be ready to go at least seven innings and probably a 110 pitches,” Cooper said Friday.
Sale will likely make three Cactus League starts, starting with the Los Angeles Dodgers March 19, before the regular season opener at Oakland April 4.
“He was throwing against A ballers all spring because he hurt his foot and then he comes out and he’s full bore for us and certainly did great,” Cooper said. “We’re slowing him down a little bit, that comes to mind, but also mixing in plenty of opportunities for hands-on focused work.”
Sale will throw his second live batting practice session Saturday. Between now and his first Cactus League start, he will throw to hitters working on specifics under Cooper’s watch.
Sale set a club record with 274 strikeouts over a career-high 31 starts and finished fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting. He said he was strong enough after the season to make six more starts. If that was the case, missing a few early Cactus League games won’t hurt.
“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” manager Robin Ventura said.
“We need to get his innings and pitches up, I can tell you that,” Cooper said. “We’re going to do it in a lower leveraged, stressed kind of environment. Simulated games, stuff like that where we’re working on stuff – his arm side stuff, working on the opposite side, back door breaking ball and specific things on days as we go.
“We seem to do that every spring but now it’s more by design. Why? Because we know him, we know how he goes and we’ll make the adjustment there.”
NOTES: The Sox, will again avoid using their starting pitchers against AL Central teams and the Oakland A’s, who they play four games to open the season, in Cactus League games.
“Why in the world would we want any of our starters to face Oakland and Cleveland?” Cooper said. “We are seeing them the first six or seven games. That’s not going to happen. That will give opportunity to others to be seen and show what they can do.’’
*Right-hander Erik Johnson, on working with a personal coach during the offseason for work on his mechanics: ”Whether the information is outside or inside or with the White Sox, which is huge, I’m a student of the game. I’m trying to be the best Erik Johnson I can be for this organization.’’
Johnson’s chances of making the starting rotation likely hinge on free agent Mat Latos, whose job it is to lose.
“It’s really noise to me,’’ Johnson said. “You go through your routine, you do what you’ve got to do, and you control what you can control.’’
*Robin Ventura on the reported 30-second clock for mound visits in 2016: “I’ll be all right.’’ What about Cooper? “That one we’re going to work on. I know when he blew his hammy out, there was a question.’’
*Intrasquad games are scheduled Monday and Tuesday. B games have been added for next Saturday and Sunday.
*The Cactus League opener is Thursday against the Dodgers.