CHICAGO -- The uncertainty regarding Chris Sale's move to the 2012 White Sox starting rotation has nothing to do with his ability to handle -- or quite possibly excel -- with the change.
It's more a question of durability and innings protection for the 22-year-old southpaw, a topic frequently discussed during this weekend's SoxFest at the Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago. Pitching coach Don Cooper knows a balance needs to be struck between protecting a talented hurler, who has never pitched more than 136 2/3 innings in a season, and handcuffing him.
"We're going to give this kid just enough work experience, let him go," said Cooper, after taking part in a SoxFest seminar about the 2012 state of the team. "And as the season's going, and I don't mean in the first half, as the season goes, we'll continue to assess where he's at. We'll sit and talk about him.
"What's the worst thing that could happen to Chris Sale? He gets hurt. So we're going to do everything in our power not to let that happen. We have control over that to a large degree. How do we have control? Watching the workloads, watching how many sidelines he has.
"I'll keep an eye on that," Cooper said. "We'll make sure -- throwing in between starts, innings and pitches in a game -- how many innings he has as the season goes. It's going to be a continuing assessment. The No. 1 goal for all of our players is stay healthy. If they do stay healthy, then they're going to go out there and do the things we envision them doing."
Even with this uncertainty in terms of a Sale innings ceiling, following his 71 innings in relief last season, there's no denying the southpaw's strong passion to become a starter.
"There's going to be uncertainty in any guy's first year starting in the big leagues because it's a huge challenge," Cooper said. "But he has pitched as a starter his whole career."
"I'm excited to see Sale in particular," White Sox starter John Danks said. "If he can be half of what he was out of the bullpen, we are in pretty good shape."