Chris Sale's time in the starting rotation has reached an abrupt end, as it was announced before Friday's game by Robin Ventura--with lots of help from Cooper-- that he's moving to the bullpen to become the new closer. For the rest of the season, at least.
The surprising move comes with equally surprising revelations behind it.
Sale has apparently been dealing with elbow soreness to accompany the velocity dip that Colin at South Side Sox expressed concern over earlier this week, and the descriptions of it are troubling
Ventura described the feeling in Sale's elbow as tightness at some point and then soreness at others.
— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) May 4, 2012
However, the Sox counter with an insistence that Sale is not hurt, and will be available to assume closer duties as soon as Monday. That his bout with elbow soreness was significant enough to prompt his removal from the rotation for the sake of his career, yet not enough to prompt a DL stint, indicates that the White Sox were far more doubting of Sale's ability to hold down a spot in the starting rotation than they ever indicated previously.
The immediate loser is Hector Santiago, who receives a deserved removal from the closer role, and whichever back-end reliever (Stewart or Jones) gets demoted when Crain returns. Also Sale, who by all reports is crushed and declined to speak to reporters.
The benefits of Santiago being replaced by Sale are pretty noticeable, but are dwarfed by the ill-effects of the replacement of Sale by Axelrod. A starter with a 2.81 ERA and All-Star potential is making way for a 5th starter type who has yet to prove he can stick in the majors. More White Sox innings are going to come from the arm of Axelrod than Sale's this year, in all probability.
It guts the potential of a club already dependent on dominant starting pitching to tread water, and creates another hole in the rotation going forward with decisions on Peavy and Floyd looming at the end of the season. Sale was an opportunity for the Sox to slot in a cost-controlled overachiever at the top of the rotation for multiple years, and now he's a 70-innings-a-year guy, at most.
It'd be tragic enough if it didn't bring questions. Do they expect Sale to be able to ramp back up to top velocity on Monday after experiencing soreness and reduced performance earlier this week? Were there red flags raised before a mere five starts ended his career as a starter? How can injury troubles be so severe as to justify abandoning the extra value of Sale as a starter over reliever, if no actual injury has been suffered yet?
The White Sox have been a team so very good at developing pitchers and maintaining their health, and yet that doesn't do much to assuage the concern here.