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Strong start unlikely to speed Sale's return

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HOUSTON -- Chris Sale may still not be an active member of the White Sox when he is next scheduled to pitch next Wednesday. But based on the left-hander's results during his first injury rehab start Friday for Triple-A Charlotte, Sale is pretty darn close to ready.

Sale fanned 11 Durham hitters over four innings and 68 pitches, allowing Robby Price's single and two walks to Jerry Sands in the White Sox ace's first start at any level since April 17. He has been on the disabled list retroactive to April 18 with a flexor muscle strain in his left arm.

The White Sox have been cautious since the beginning of this malady in regard to one of their franchise cornerstones. So Sale's dominant showing Friday might not be quite enough for an immediate ticket back.

"You don't want to rush him," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said before the White Sox game in Houston and before Sale's start. "I'm sure he'll be excited about going out there and pitching tonight. Just bring him back at a pace where he's ready to go out and compete and help us win for a long time.

"We'll see him throw tonight, and then make an adjustment after that and talk to him and see how he's doing. That's always going to be the first thing that we base a decision on and go from there. It's more his health and how he's feeling, even though he said he felt great when he left. You never know."

One common school of thought was that Sale would make two Minor League rehab starts and return on May 25 at home against the Yankees, one day after Chris Sale Bobblehead Day, if all went well. The postponement of Sale's originally scheduled start from Thursday would move his big league return to May 26 against the Indians at home if he made a second Minor League rehab start Wednesday.

The White Sox could forgo a second rehab start for a side session with the team, while giving him a few extra days before starting him next weekend against the Yankees. But they probably want to see Sale get his pitch count a little higher than 68, if this rehab assignment is to be viewed as a modified Spring Training, although White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper mentioned Friday that Sale would be watched closely in his first few big league starts upon returning.

Of course, the next big tell-tale sign for Sale is how he responds Saturday following Friday's stellar performance.

"We will get him back, that's the good news," Cooper said before Sale's start. "That's kind of right around the corner, maybe 10 days from now.

"Who knows? I can't wait to see what happens tonight. We want Chris here. Chris wants to be here, but we're not going to bring Chris here at the risk of finishing what we started, which is the rehab process to get him back going, and do that right. That won't happen until we're sure that's right. That's next."

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.

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