GLENDALE, Ariz. – The White Sox have question marks heading into the 2016 season. But here’s one issue no questions asked: Chris Sale is the ace of their pitching staff.
It’s good to have a bona fide ace, not just a best-of-your-bunch who qualifies by default but one who’d be the ace on most staffs. That kind of quality is invaluable and, for some teams, unattainable.
The other Sox starters certainly don’t mind looking up to Sale for comfort, motivation and, as John Danks said, sheer entertainment value.
“You want an ace on your staff. He’s your stopper,’’ Danks said Wednesday. “Sale is a stopper, a guy who helps prevent long losing streaks and extends winning streaks. He’s elite.’’
“It is important,’’ first-year Sox catcher Dioner Navarro, a 12-year veteran, said. “You want one of those guys in front of your rotation to set the tone and to guide the other guys, especially if they are younger.’’
Pecking orders matter in baseball. In clubhouses, pitching staffs and elsewhere. Players like defined roles, and to know where they stand. Navarro said every staff he has been associated with has had one guy at the top, and that’s a good thing.
“It may not be a big name, or a big free-agent signing, but every organization has that one guy that everybody goes to.’’
Carlos Rodon, a No. 3 overall draft pick who profiles as a potential staff ace, is entering his second season. Rodon said he learned worthwhile lessons watching Sale No. 2 starter Jose Quintana approach their work on a day-to-day basis.
For a big-talent, highly motivated guy like Rodon, Sale inspires just by being the pitcher he is.
“You almost take it as a competition,’’ Rodon said. “Like I want to do better than he does. He’s the guy who’s going to set the bar and you want to meet it or go beyond it. But it’s hard to exceed that.’’
And Sale leads by example, Rodon said.
“He talks a little bit. He does everything right,’’ Rodon said. “If you’re a young guy coming in like myself the best advice is to watch him and Q go about their business. You’re going to do very well in this game if you try to do everything the way they do it.’’
In the rotation, “everyone else can follow in behind Sale,’’ Rodon said. “I know myself, I’m going to try just as hard to repeat what he does. Having a guy like that just to kick us off, or to lead off a series is something special. I think it is a big deal to have a staff ace. He affects everyone else in the rotation.’’
Quintana may one day be a staff ace. For now, he seems comfortable in his place and has been exceptional in his role.
“It’s very good for us to follow Chris in that rotation,’’ Quintana said. “We try to follow him. He’s a good leader for us.’’
Sale will be 27 by Opening Day, which makes the second-longest tenured Sox behind Danks. He is more than the leader of the staff, he’s a team leader who finds himself doing things veterans do. It’s still kind of new, so it feels kind of odd.
“You take care of yourself more than when you were younger,’’ Sale said. “You get more leniency, but with that comes responsibility.
“It’s weird for me to try to lead someone who is in their 30s. But yeah, I feel more responsibility for what my actions are.’’
Danks, the staff’s elder statesman who turns 31 in April, felt that way, too, when he was the Sox’ Opening Day starter in 2012. A fifth starter now, he knows what it’s like to be on the top and bottom of a rotation. In any case you have to make good pitches to win games, and having Sale around doesn’t affect that, Danks said.
“It doesn’t affect me other than I get to be entertained every five days,’’ Danks said.
“It helps to have an elite and very consistent guy but you still need the other four guys to do their job on their given night.’’