The Chicago White Sox had plans to transition Chris Sale to the closer role last month before ultimately letting him stick in the starting rotation.
It certainly looks like they made the right decision.
Sale tries to win a fourth consecutive outing and help the White Sox regroup from a rare loss Sunday as they conclude a three-game set with the visiting Seattle Mariners.
While his sore elbow gave Chicago (30-23) a bit of a scare in early May, Sale's recent efforts have surely alleviated those concerns. The 23-year-old left-hander has been lights out over his last three starts, winning each while compiling a 0.92 ERA and limiting opponents to a .147 average.
Sale (6-2, 2.34 ERA) was at his best Monday in a 2-1 win at Tampa Bay, striking out a career-high 15 and allowing just five baserunners and one run over 7 1-3 innings.
"I don't know what it was like facing Randy Johnson when he was young," Rays outfielder Ben Zobrist told the White Sox's official website. "But this kid, he's going to be great, and I think he has a real bright future as a starter."
Sale's strikeout total was the highest by an individual at Tropicana Field, falling one shy of Jack Harshman's team record set in 1954. Sale also became the youngest pitcher to fan 15 since the Cubs' Mark Prior in 2003.
"He's special," manager Robin Ventura said. "I think that's what you're seeing is him being able to kind of manage the game and go for a strikeout and get ahead and all of those things."
Sale struck out 11 Mariners - his previous career high - over 6 1-3 frames in a 7-3 victory at Seattle on April 20.
Another strong effort could be just what the White Sox need to bounce back from Saturday's loss. The AL Central leaders saw their nine-game winning streak come to an end with a 10-8, 12-inning defeat to Seattle (24-31).
"It has been nice. We've done a lot of good things. We plan on continuing," Ventura said.
"You can't win every game, but you know we are in every game, so that's the good news. We plan on being in games from here on out, too."
Ichiro Suzuki homered twice and Justin Smoak went deep for the third time in as many games before John Jaso put the Mariners up for good with an RBI double off Chicago closer Addison Reed in the 12th.
Seattle, which routed Texas 21-8 on Wednesday, has scored 45 runs over its last four games during a surprising offensive surge, batting .385 with runners in scoring position in that stretch.
The Mariners have also been getting strong performances from Kevin Millwood (3-4, 3.56), who's 3-0 with a 0.67 ERA over his last four starts. The veteran right-hander yielded one run and four hits Monday at Texas, but needed 97 pitches to get through five innings before Seattle lost 4-2.
"With the heat and how hard he worked, we weren't going to push him another inning," manager Eric Wedge said. "He's been pitching really well and you don't want one inning to affect his next start or next couple of starts."
Millwood gave up five runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings of a 7-4 loss to Chicago on April 22, dropping to 1-6 despite a respectable 3.53 ERA over 12 career starts against the White Sox. He's had a hard time slowing down Adam Dunn, who is 9 for 21 with six homers in their matchups.
Dayan Viciedo and Gordon Beckham, who both homered Saturday, could also give him trouble. Viciedo is batting .447 with five homers and 14 RBIs in his last nine games, while Beckham has gone deep three times in the last two days and is batting .349 during a nine-game hitting streak.
- Seattle Mariners
- Chris Sale