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Ace or near ace, Sale ready to start for Sox

Published: Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

GLENDALE, Ariz. – White Sox left-hander Chris Sale is more than ready for this season.

He went to the All-Star game last year and pitched 192 innings. He finished sixth in the Cy Young Award voting after going 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA.

When he spoke up about a tender elbow, the Sox acted swiftly by moving him to the bullpen. Sale talked his way back into the rotation.

Now, he’s ready to start up again.

“I can’t wait,” Sale said. “After training this offseason and coming into spring training knowing how my body feels and having one more year of experience under my belt makes it exciting. I was talking to my agent and he was reminding me that this is my first year of doing the same thing as the last year.

“I’ve never really had two years of the same thing. It’s fun, it’s exciting and I’m ready to go,” he said.

Manager Robin Ventura hasn’t announced his Opening Day starter, but Sale is a solid bet to get the nod over former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, the veteran leader of the staff. Sale has endorsed Peavy as the choice, and vice versa.

“That would be crazy. I would be speechless if it came to that,” said Sale, who’ll turn 24 two days before the opener. “But as I’ve said before, if anyone deserves that, it’s Peavy. He’s the leader of the team and our pitching staff and he has the resumé to do it. We all have our faith and trust in him and he’s our guy.”

Peavy has a different take on the subject.

“Chris is the best pitcher on the team,” said Peavy, who was 11-12 with a 3.37 ERA last season. “Your best guy goes Opening Day.”

A first-round draft pick out of Florida Gulf Coast in 2010, Sale pitched only 101⁄3 innings in the minors before joining the Sox to make 21 relief appearances that season. He pitched out of the bullpen his first full year in the majors in 2011 before making the big step to full-time starter last season.

Sale’s ERA was 4.03 in the second half of the season after posting a 2.19 ERA in the first.

“I felt like I learned a lot last year, not just about myself but about baseball and the game in general,” Sale said. “I know how my body feels and I have a better feel for situations and different things that come up during ballgames. It’s a learning experience.”

Sale fell one start short of 30 and eight innings shy of 200, both reasonable goals for his second season as a starter. Because of his 6-foot-6 frame, delivery and the minor elbow issue last season, Sale is viewed as a pitcher who might break down. But he has been vigilant about sticking to his strength and flexibility program, and has emphasized flexibility over strength in his offseason conditioning routine.

He shrugs off suggestions he’s not built for the long haul.

“I don’t think about going out there and blowing my arm up or anything like that,” Sale said. “Obviously, it’s a long season and you’re throwing a lot. You have to make sure everything is intact and moving right. Pay attention to your body and know what’s going on and how it feels on a given day and know when enough is enough and when you can throw some more.”

Sale took an extra three weeks to a month off from his normal offseason throwing routine to refresh his arm. He also gained 15 pounds, though it’s not that noticeable.

“I felt strong at the beginning of last year and through the season and I kind of fell off at the end,” he said. “That’s my focus, toward the back end of the season. You want to get off on the right foot but everybody knows it’s not how you start but how you finish and that’s the most important part of this game, finishing strong. And that’s what I plan to do.”

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