Thursday, June 4, 2015

Chris Sale's slider returns, and so does his dominance

The White Sox evened their record at 5-5 on their current 11-game road trip Wednesday with a 9-2 trouncing of the Texas Rangers.

First baseman Jose Abreu returned to the lineup after missing three games with a finger injury, and his two-run home run capped off a six-run rally in the top of the second inning that sent the Sox on their way to victory.

But the big story was ace left-hander Chris Sale, who has not been scored upon in his last 19.2 innings. Sale worked seven shutout innings on Wednesday, allowing just three hits. He struck out a season-high 13 batters and walked only two. Sale has now reached double-digit strikeouts in each of his last three outings.

Check out the difference in his numbers from his first five starts of the year to his last five starts:
First 5: 2-1, 5.93 ERA
Last 5: 3-1, 1.40 ERA

In those last five outings, Sale has worked 38.2 innings. He has struck out 53 men and walked but six, a ratio of almost 9-to-1. He's also allowed just 19 hits.

What changed? Well, Sale has rediscovered his slider, and he's throwing it more each and every time out. Jim Margalus noted this in a recent blog on South Side Sox.

Sale's number of sliders thrown in his last five outings:
May 12: 12
May 18: 14
May 23: 18
May 28: 28
June 3: 32

Remember, Sale missed most of spring training with a broken foot and started the season on the disabled list. His first five outings, he was basically a two-pitch pitcher - fastball and changeup. When he did try to throw his slider, he hung it and it got hit hard.

When a pitcher misses time with an injury that is not arm-related, as was the case with Sale this spring, rediscovering fastball velocity is usually not the main issue. It's finding the release point on the breaking ball, and building up enough arm strength to snap it off the way a pitcher needs to. The breaking ball is more of a "feel" pitch than a fastball, and it takes time and repetition for a pitcher to get that right.

Most pitchers in MLB went through that process during spring training. Sale didn't get that chance because of injury. He had to figure it out on the fly, in real games against major league hitters, and that's the reason why he struggled the way he did early in the season.

Now, his "spring training" is over, so to speak. He's in regular-season form, and we see the difference in results. He's a three-pitch pitcher now, and he's much harder for opposing hitters to handle.

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