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White Sox ace Chris Sale learning, maturing on the job

ANAHEIM, Calif. — White Sox manager Robin Ventura has seen Chris Sale progress from the occasionally hair-trigger reactionary to a more composed, finished and poised pitcher.

Sure, the mid-90s fastball always has been there, as well as a breaking ball that can hit a batter and get a swing and a miss. And while his changeup is getting better with age, so is the fiery Sale’s demeanor on the mound.

“He’s still a kid, but he’s a more mature kid as he understands what he can do on a nightly basis,’’ Ventura said. “It’s fun for us to watch, but you’re getting a guy who has been through it enough. His experience is starting to get there, too.’’

Performances such as Sale’s on Sunday, when he struck out 15 Cubs to tie a career high while allowing only one hit in seven scoreless innings in the Sox’ 3-1 victory that salvaged the finale in the crosstown matchup, aren’t forgotten the next day.

For Sale, never one to bask in the attention given to his own greatness, this one was special.

“It was cool,’’ Sale said before the Sox opened a four-game series against the Los Angeles Angels. “I talked to my dad about it and stuff like that. Had a few friends text me.

“Given that it was home, it was against the Cubs, a packed house. It was fun. Great atmosphere.”

Ventura and pitching coach Don Cooper have kept a watchful eye on Sale, taking action and giving counsel on when and how to reel in that fire when necessary and when to let it burn — as it did while he was pitching out of a jam in the sixth inning Sunday.

Sale, 26, also is learning, between starts, how to take care of his arm and body.

“It took me a few years to figure out what works,’’ he said. “When to go heavy, when to go light. Bullpens, when to throw them. Pick your spots. We’ve had a few extra days along the way. Sometimes you might alter it a little bit.’’

Sale, who became the fifth lefty to strike out 15 or more and allow one or no hits in a game (joining Randy Johnson four times, Clayton Kershaw, Jon Lester and Warren Spahn), will take an 11-7 record, a 3.32 ERA and a major-league-high 208 strikeouts into his next start Friday in Seattle.

Aside from missing his first start because of an off-field foot injury during spring training, Sale has taken the ball every turn.

It’s all part of being the leader of a pitching staff.

“The maturity part is what you’re seeing,’’ Ventura said.

“There were times when we skipped him [in the rotation], there was health stuff. He has a better understanding of how to get through a season . . . and he also understands what he means to our team when he goes out there. He takes a big responsibility in that; he understands that better now. I think that’s growing up. You realize you’re not the young kid anymore, and he has stepped up to that.’’

Ventura also likes that Sale doesn’t let a bad start linger as it once did. He turns the page and quickly regains his focus. And when he’s pitching, he has a better handle on that edgy side.

“Given the circumstance, the team, the situation, sometimes you’ll get a little amped up,’’ Sale said. “You just try to use that and the adrenaline and the atmosphere. Sometimes a situation will get the best of you, but you try to do the best not to let that happen.’’