Role uncertain, Sale to have MRI on Thursday

Role uncertain, Sale to have MRI on Thursday

CLEVELAND -- Maybe the White Sox moved almost too cautiously when announcing Friday that Chris Sale was moving from the starting rotation to closer for the remainder of the 2012 season because of left elbow tenderness.

Then again, maybe White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper has been a little too forceful in even hinting that the 23-year-old southpaw could return as a starter at some point relatively soon, with the mentor lending as much support as possible to his student.

Whatever the explanation, there seems to be some inconsistency as to what job responsibility will be featured in Sale's promising future. This much is certain: Sale will have an MRI on his elbow Thursday afternoon when he returns to Chicago.

After the results are read from a move that is considered purely precautionary at this point, a decision will be made as to where Sale fits on the pitching staff. Sale still was in the bullpen for Wednesday, but probably not available for the series finale against the Indians, and manager Robin Ventura indicated the bullpen is where he presently envisions Sale staying put.

"That's something we'll go over when we get back home," Ventura said. "This all happened pretty fast. Getting everybody in the room and expressing it face to face is probably the best thing to do. That's when you get the most information and make the right decision.

"We'll see when we get everybody in the room. Personally, I'm probably not making that decision. [Sale's return to the rotation] could happen. I'm not saying it can't but I would be surprised if it did."

Sale had a 3-1 record and solid 2.89 ERA over 32 innings as a starter. He was surprised, bordering on stunned, when he received Friday's news from Ventura about the role change, showing emotion later that night when talking about the adjustment.

His unwavering desire to continue starting, expressed by Ventura and Cooper, appears to have put starting back on the table for Sale. But the White Sox ultimately are concerned with Sale's health, both short term and long term, and those concerns could outweigh Sale's desire.

The White Sox backed off Sale since his last start on May 1 until he threw one inning of relief in Tuesday's 5-3 victory in 10 innings. Cooper pointed out that the plan was similar to the one being employed by Boston with Daniel Bard and Texas with Neftali Feliz, who are both late-inning relievers converted to starters, and have both effectively skipped a start through one relief outing.

During this down time, Sale came to Cooper and told him that his tender elbow felt great. So, Cooper wanted to revisit starting.

"Nothing is out of the possibility," Cooper said. "He missed a start, we gave him time and we quieted down the elbow that was barking a little bit. We backed off and took care of that situation. Now he's back to pitching."

"It's not for me to make the call on," said an upbeat Sale, when asked about the relieving/starting conundrum. "Those guys obviously, they run the team and they know what they're doing with the team and if they have a decision, it's not like I can say, 'No.' I've obviously talked with them and it's one of those things that you go with what's said and grind it out another day."

From the first time Sale's starting move was discussed during the offseason leading into the 2011 campaign, his health stood out as the prime issue. That health issue was one of the main reasons why Cooper didn't want Sale filling in for Jake Peavy at the start of the 2011 season and then moving back into the bullpen when Peavy rehabbed and returned following his 2010 season-ending surgery to reattach his lat.

Focus hasn't changed, in that regard, with the White Sox watching his pitch counts or getting him out an inning early to reduce his workload. So, the White Sox will have the MRI done and then see whether Sale resumes his work at 100 to 110 pitches in search of quality starts, or is trying to pile up saves via 15-20 pitches in the ninth inning.

"Everything is swirling around him having pictures taken tomorrow," Ventura said. "He's not hurt. It's more monitoring what's going on and seeing where it's at. It's kind of precautionary stuff that happens all the time."

"Chris Sale is going to be pitching in prime-time spots, whether it's closing, eighth-inning big moments or if we decided, you know what, he's good enough right now and we are going to send him back out starting," Cooper said. "I don't think anything is out of the question, but no matter what he's doing, we are going to be watching him and taking care of him."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.