Sale posted an 11-0 record and a 2.01 ERA over 17 games, 15 starts, for Florida Gulf Coast University this past season. The 21-year-old pitched 103 innings, fanning 146 and walking just 14, so the White Sox wanted to monitor his overall innings total in his first year of professional baseball.
When the 6-foot-5, 175-pound southpaw agreed to terms with the White Sox, though, the idea was to put him on the fast track to the parent club. That road traveled would be as a reliever, following the same route as Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Clayton Richard, who all eventually ended up as part of the South Siders' rotation.
Adjusting to the bullpen for what should amount to Sale's only season of relief has not seemed to be a problem. Sale finished with a combined 2.61 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings for Class A Winston-Salem and Triple-A Charlotte. He had 15 strikeouts in seven games and 6 1/3 innings for the Knights, and actually earned the attention of Guillen before beginning his abbreviated Minor League career.
"The first time I see this guy on tape, I asked [White Sox general manager] Kenny [Williams] why we don't have him here tomorrow," said Guillen, who believes Sale will play a "big role" on the White Sox. "I like what I see on tape. He's got a lot of guts. If this kid throws strikes, he should be fine. We are excited to have him. Like I told you guys in the past, I'm not afraid to manage kids. I have a great staff to work with him. We believe in what we do here. Hopefully, this kid is a good one."
"Right when you are in the game, it's instant adrenaline," said Sale of working in relief. "It took a few times, but I like coming out of the 'pen."
As an added bonus for Sale, his Major League promotion comes right in the middle of a tight American League Central playoff race between the first-place White Sox, Twins and even the Tigers. But according to White Sox Minor League pitching coordinator Kirk Champion, who watched Sale pitch a handful of times, the well-prepared hurler never has been overwhelmed by lofty expectations.
Taking the ball during the seventh or eighth inning, with the game on the line, stands as a situation Sale looks forward to instead of fearing.
"Everyone's been telling me it's the same game," Sale said. "It's 60 feet, six inches. They're still trying to hit the ball off of you and you're trying to not let them get hits off of you. It doesn't change. Your mindset still stays the same. It's just a little bit better competition as you go through, and the only thing I'm really focused on is working down and hopefully helping this club out."
"He has a swagger, but not a bad swagger," said Lucas Harrell, the starting and winning pitcher last Friday for the White Sox against Oakland, and one of Sale's teammates at Charlotte. "Chris Sale is amazing. He's got nasty run on his fastball. He's got a good slider. I think he's going to be a really good big leaguer."
Without having thrown a single pitch, Sale certainly isn't thinking about his legacy. He simply wants to help the White Sox win, and certainly will be given that opportunity by Guillen.
"Now, these are important outings," Sale said. "It's not like we're 10 games out or 10 ahead. So when I get into a game, it's the real deal. I'll have to perform well and help this team."