CHICAGO | One of the most talented lefties in baseball can dial it up to 95 miles per hour or better when he really needs the hitter to swing and miss.
And yet Chris Sale’s biggest accomplishment this season will be learning how to tune down the white-hot emotions that come with being a supreme competitor pitching at such breakneck speeds.
After enjoying almost exclusively success in 2012 with a 17-8 record, two-time All-Star Sale had to deal with the tough luck that goes with being an effective pitcher on a collapsing team.
Going into Saturday’s start against the Kansas City Royals, Sale received 2.67 runs-per-game support this season, lowest in the majors. And that number went down even further in a 1-0 loss as the Sox dropped to 21 games under .500, their season low point, having gone 16-37 since May 27.
Sale (6-10, 2.69 ERA overall) is 1-8 with a 2.84 ERA in his last 10 starts. Against the Royals, he went nine innings, allowing one run on seven hits with seven strikeouts.
“It’s not easy trying to explain it to him,” manager Robin Ventura said. “It’s a tough lesson.
To compensate for the lack of support, the 24-year-old Sale has tried to avoid pitching above his ability.
“Just past experiences,” he said after the loss. “I know I’ve been in there in the past, trying to do too much and trying to get too much out of myself – knowing when I stay within myself and stay composed and under control, it works a lot better. A couple of deep breaths here and there, and keep attacking.”
Sometimes Sale the competitor gets the best of him. He briefly questioned Ventura ordering an intentional walk to Miguel Cabrera in his last start Monday, then was contrite in conceding Ventura’s authority.
“A lot of people think Chris is older because of what he’s done – he’s a two-time All-Star,” said Sox pitching coach Don Cooper. “Chris is still learning like anyone else. I think what Chris is learning more at the moment is to control his emotions, which will in turn to put him in a position where he can control his pitches.
“You want to have emotions, you want to have fire. I’d rather tame a tiger than push a donkey.”
Of all his young starters, Cooper said Jose Quintana handles his emotions the best. Sale still has work to do when he has a pitch-by-pitch setback.
“We’ve seen a couple of times with Chris is when he gets angry, the pitches he throws after that are just not quite as good," Cooper said of Sale. "He’s competing so hard, that when something doesn’t go right, he gets angry.
“It comes down to focusing and committing on each pitch to have that pitch be successful. If there’s rage or emotions out of control, the chances of making that next pitch are not as good, because your focus is split.”
Ventura compares Sale favorably with “Black Jack” McDowell, the scowling ace of his Sox playing days two decades ago.
“He ranks up there,” Ventura said, while projecting Sale as a future team leader. “He’s very competitive. He gets angry in all the right ways.”