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Chris Sale moves back to the pen, takes over as White Sox closer

May 4, 2012, 6:09 PM EDT

Chris Sale AP

Now this one is a real shocker: Chris Sale, who has been very impressive in opening the season 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA in his rotation debut for the White Sox, will move back to the pen and take over as the team’s closer, it was announced Friday.

Health concerns are the obvious reasoning behind the switch, though the White Sox indicated he’d be ready to pitch out of the pen right away. It’s a bizarre move if it’s completely preemptive. If it’s not and he is hurting now, then it’s still bizarre, since it’d make sense to give him at least a week or two off.

From a performance standpoint, Sale’s move to the rotation couldn’t have possibly gone any better. Not only was his record sterling, but he had cut down on the walks and become more efficient with his pitches. On April 25, he needed just 101 pitches — 71 strikes — to get through eight innings against the A’s. In his win Tuesday, he threw 88 pitches in six innings against the Indians.

This also certainly isn’t a case of the White Sox needing Sale more in the bullpen than in the rotation. Hector Santiago had struggled in the closer’s role, but he never figured to be more than the team’s fourth or fifth best reliever anyway. Addison Reed, who has all the makings of a long-term closer, still hasn’t given up a run in 8 2/3 innings this year. Matt Thornton has a 2.38 ERA.  Jesse Crain, though hurt at the moment, is another quality arm.

Meanwhile, the White Sox are likely taking a big downgrade in the rotation by promoting Dylan Axelrod into Crain’s spot. Axelrod was a great find for the team after being let go by the Padres, but he’s not going to open eyes with his stuff. He’s probably going to be a long-term middle reliever, as opposed to a decent fourth or fifth starter.

All in all, it seems like a very odd choice from the outside looking in. Still, if the White Sox think this is the best way to keep Sale healthy, we’ll just have to trust them on that for now. It is a real shame, though. Sale was looking like a legitimate No. 2 starter, and he’s never going to produce that kind of value out of the pen.

  1. mikeincmn - May 4, 2012 at 6:52 PM

    This franchise seems to be a real mess right now. I mean, first they give very indication they are going into a full blown rebuilding job, then they resign their pending free agents. Now they sacrifice the chance to see Sale progress into a solid starter something far more valuable than a closer to a team to shore up a bullpen that appears to be solid enough with Thornton and Crain.

    Only thing I can think of is they freaked out about how Sale was recovering after games or his mechanics or whatever. Just seems to be another off, short sighted decision.

  2. Gordon - May 4, 2012 at 7:24 PM

    This sucks. He was doing so well in the rotation.

  3. dwrek5 - May 4, 2012 at 7:32 PM

    White Sox had a good thing going coming into spring with their rotation and pen, and then Ventura got too for school and now its a mess only a month into the season. K.I.S.S.

  4. j0ey15 - May 4, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    So what Kenny Williams and Robin Ventura are saying is instead of putting stress on his arm once maybe twice a week they can put him as the closer where he can pitch up to 5 times per week at max effort because they want to save him arm? I don’t know about anyone else but this has to be one of the stupidest things/reasons I’ve ever heard

  5. prosourcetalk - May 4, 2012 at 8:11 PM

    You gotta be shitting me…

  6. ezthinking - May 4, 2012 at 11:42 PM

    Must be some sort of delayed April Fools joke. He didn’t come in to close tonight, Thorton blew it.

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