While it was lacking in the Japanese press coverage or the anxiety of an $100 million investment that Yu Darvish's Monday night's debut featured, Chris Sale's first major league start could be argued to have been a better experience. You'd have to swap out the electric Texas atmosphere for the mausoleum that was Progressive Field Monday night, but a 4-2 White Sox win over Cleveland was worth it.
Darvish sparked panic by giving up 5 runs allowed thanks to early-game command problems, and those were certainly present with Sale. He only threw first-pitch strikes to 8 of the 25 hitters he faced, recorded both of his 2 walks in first 2 innings of work, and couldn't throw his slider close enough for a strike early on.
The Sox did the courtesy of staking Sale to an early lead, and the Indians did the courtesy of fielding their own version of a Sunday lineup (Hafner, Brantley, and even Hannahan sat).
Sale might not have had his breaking stuff early, but he did have a mid-90's fastball with loads of sinking action on it. When he was forced to work behind in the count, Sale pounded the zone with his heater. He produced three groundball outs in the 1st inning, and 10 over the course of his 6.2 IP.
As the slider returned to him, so did the whiffs, along with the continued weak contact. Sale finished with 5 strikeouts on the night, and was sitting on one hit allowed going into the 6th. He nearly took off Shin Shoo Choo's hand in the 6th with a misplaced 95 mph fastball, then fell asleep as Choo stole 2nd base and subsequently scored. By the 7th, his slider was clearly flattening out, and Ventura pulled him right after he was able to force one more groundball for a double play, hitting the century mark in pitches in the process.
6.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 5 K, 2 BB, 100 pitches, and his first win. It was a fine debut for Sale. It was a great debut. Perhaps an ideal debut. There was a full display of the goods (swing & miss stuff, groundball tendencies, mid-90s velocity) along with the issues he'll need to work through (pitch economy, control), and it wasn't good enough for everyone to lose their minds immediately.
Other encouraging bits
Dayan Viciedo turned on an inside fastball and pulled it down the line for line-drive double, inside-outed a single to right, and fouled off two outside breaking pitches before eventually earning a walk. Afterward on the post-game show, Frank Thomas raved about his bat speed and proclaimed him a future #3 hitter. I'm pretty sure he meant the immediate future. Well, if he's excited...
Alejandro De Aza ripped his first home run to right field to start off the game, singled in the 5th and scored easily from 2nd when a Brent Morel single ricocheted off 1st basemen Jose Lopez's glove. It's easy to see what De Aza brings to the game both on the basepaths and in the field, so it's nice to see him flash the power he'll need to stay as an offensive asset, because strikeouts are going to remain with him.
Adam Dunn went 0-4 with a walk and two not-so-flattering strikeouts. He looked viable on his two flyouts, but after last year, everyone's allowed to go ahead and get panicky about him if they want to.
A.J. Pierzynski hit a fairly massive home run to right in 1st inning, and reminded all that he has pretty impressive raw power when given pitches to drive...which isn't often due to his approach, but it was fun nonetheless.
Brent Morel's return to the #2 hole seems like it should be a temporary one. He struck out helplessly on sliders well out of the zone in his first two plate appearances, displayed some of the most hopeless body language it's possible for a human being to dispaly, recovered to work a count full and smash an RBI single, then struck out once more and finished 1 for 5. He's not yet completely lost, but he's close.
Gordon Beckham showed some improved plate discipline, earning a walk and laying off a fair amount of outside breaking pitches. He saw 22 offerings over his four plate appearances, but his swing isn't there yet. Pitches to drive to the opposite field were met with weak, off-balance swings and popped up for outs.
Hector Santiago recorded his second save, and recorded two strikeouts in the process. He also allowed a solo home run to Jose Lopez, which prevented a lot of jokes being made about the Cleveland lineup that featured Jose Lopez at 1st base. Santiago again displayed plus velocity, but if the screwball continues to be absent, he's going to need the three-run cushion he received tonight.