What's the smallest sample size you can use to get pumped up about a pitcher? I suppose a single pitch, but only if it constitutes an entire at-bat, and who ever got excited about an induced groundout?
This is all a way of prefacing an argument that Sale looks ready to return from his exile in low-leverage work that's inspired by me watching the lanky lefty strikeout Adrian Gonzalez on three pitches to close out a 10-7 win over Boston.
Massive overreactions such as this are why bloggers can't have nice things, so I'm grateful I have Sale's 3-inning, 47-pitch outing to base my conclusions off as well.
Sale was intriguing when he first emerged for some very clear reasons;
he's a tall lefty, could throw in the high-90's, and projected to have
three above-average pitches. He had both the typical hard
four-seamer/slider combination, and a highly-revered change-up. It
turned out that he would use the change sparingly in his rookie year--as
Corey Ettinger of AL Central In Focus suggested, it's deception wasn't quite pro-ready--but
that only made the fact that he eviscerated major league hitters (1.93
ERA/2.56 xFIP) without one of his pitches more thrilling.
Such distinctive skills made it easy to figure out what was missing
right at the beginning of the year. There was still no sign of the
change-up, and Sale was now operating primarily with a 94 mph fastball
(2 down from his average), with little reliance on his hard breaker.
Worse yet, his command (10 BB in 16.2 IP) was far too shaky for grooved
reduced-velocity heaters to work as bailout pitches.
It was as if he had spent all off-season hanging out with Matt
Thornton...during what appears to have been the absolutely wrong
off-season to hang out with Matt Thornton.
But in the words of Rick James, played by Dave Chappelle, "THAT WAS WEEKS AGO, #$@&#!"
Tuesday night was actually the third outing in a row that Sale didn't
look like an over-promoted 22 year-old deserving of a mop-up role.
5/25 @ Texas: Sale comes in, throws a single pitch to lefty Mitch
Moreland, who bunts it incompetently, allowing Chris to throw out the
lead man. Considering that his last two outings involved a 27-pitch
inning where he allowed a run and three baserunners, and a game where he
set up a bases loaded jam for Jesse Crain, this was progress.
Considering that Ozzie saw fit to replace him with Tony Pena after this,
maybe it wasn't.
5/28 @ Toronto: Throws 3 shutout innings (8th-10th), strikes out three
with a walk and two hits. The lack of walks here is notable, especially
because Sale became enraptured with his off-speed stuff. He threw 22
sliders (more than any other pitch) and five changeups, and got seven
swinging strikes combined. His fastball topped out at 96 mph, which is
more in the neighborhood of his 2010.
5/31 @ Boston: Throws a two-seamer for strike one, blows a 97-mph
four-seamer past a red-hot Adrian Gonzalez for the second, then flips a
slider in for the final blow, all while painting the corners in a way
that seems painfully unfair.
Alright, so obviously this is still not that much to go on. I've cited
3.2 innings, and I was totally joking about that bunt. But Sale has now
shown command and trust of his slider in consecutive outings while
flashing the elite velocity there's no real reason to think he'd
actually lost. This doesn't mean we should trade Santos for Robbie
Alomar, but with Thornton (still shaky) and Ohman (newly shaky!),
there's no reason to not start toeing the waters and handing some
higher-leverage lefty opportunities to the youngster.
He's proven what he's capable before, and things are starting to look mighty familiar.