Tuesday night marked the return of Chris Sale to the bullpen. No longer a rookie getting his feet wet, Sale now comes to the pen in the manner that most relievers do; after an unsuccessful stretch as a starter that he feels was wrongly cut short.
His switch back to the bullpen was so shocking and unpopular that the reasons surely had to be grave and dramatic to force the move..
As the Sun-Times' Van Schouwen reports, not so much.
"I want what my guys want. He wants to start. I want him to start, ’’ [said Cooper].
As of now, Sale is being “held back,’’ Cooper said. “We’re going to continue to watch it. Who knows what we may do? Right now, we just kind of backed off him a little bit. In effect, we’ve missed a start. He’s feeling great right now.’’
Cooper dismissed the notion that Sale’s mechanics aren’t suited for the rigors of starting.
“No, no, no, there were no concerns about that,’’ Cooper said.
“Right now, he’s in the pen,’’ Cooper said, ‘‘and we’ll continue to watch him. And who knows what we do?’’
"Who know what we may do?" and "we've missed a start" is a far cry from previous justifications of making him a closer to "preserve his career", and is just another turn in this already hard-to-follow saga.
Sale supported the fervent claims that he was never hurt Tuesday by cranking back up to the 93-96 mph velocity range he had earlier in the year. Initially he was even sent out with the intent of recording a two-inning save. That hints more at a super-reliever status than it does at someone too fragile to be worth trying in the rotation.
If it was only an issue of lightening his workload in response to weakness and soreness, why make a non-permanent switch to relief? Why would Cooper entertain the back-and-forth approach he took it upon himself to speak out against before the 2011 season.
The message is coming out more and more garbled as it develops. Cooper just took a whole set of answers to the fundamental question of "If Sale can start, why wouldn't he?" and threw them out the window, and it's unclear what the determining factors are in this decision besides perhaps some need to assuage Sale's burning discontent. Cooper and Ventura keeping their words shaky doesn't help to clear things up, nor does Kenny Williams' silence.
Perhaps something can be gleaned from the treatment of those affected by Sale's oscillations. Before Tuesday's game, Ventura backed Eric Stults as the 5th starter for the time being. If Stults can improbably tread water for a bit it could decrease the critical focus on Sale's usage, though not as much as it will increase if he blows up. The theory that Sale's move would provide the impetus to a Nestor Molina rush-job lost some steam when Nestor was returned to AA Birmingham after one start.
Thanks to circumstance and Ventura's continued prioritizing the shaky Hector Santiago over him, Addison Reed found himself in the position to make a another prominent and dominant conversion of a save opportunity Tuesday. He's still 5th in the bullpen in innings pitched, but has done enough to make all the beat reporters sit up and notice how capable he is of assuming the responsibilities Sale's just been handed. Crain's bid to return to the team by next week will only amplify the sense of redundancy.
Since Sale is so important to the White Sox future, it's only right that his path mirrors that of the team: the explanation for how they'll proceed doesn't pass the smell test, but there's too much expertise behind it all to be dismissed out of hand.