Chris Sale: Chicago White Sox Can't Let Sale Become Next Joba Chamberlain

Tom FirmeAnalyst IIMay 14, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 12:  Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox throws to the Kansas City Royals in the first inning of their MLB game at U.S. Cellular Field on May 12, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)
John Gress/Getty Images

Chris Sale made an underwhelming return to the Chicago White Sox's starting rotation on Saturday. Still, hopefully Sale is there to stay. The White Sox's maneuvering with Sale in the last 10 days is reminiscent of the Joba Chamberlain situation with the New York Yankees. The White Sox don't want anything like that.

I felt pleased that my sentiment paralleling the Sale situation to that of Chamberlain was echoed by someone in the national sports media.

In a report saying that Sale's MRI showed that his arm was clean and that he'd likely start on Saturday, Matt Snyder said, "My first thought on the move to the rotation and then closer and then back to the rotation? Joba Chamberlain."

Chamberlain is a classic case of yo-yoing, which doesn't help a pitcher find his role and only serves to damage his psyche. In 2008, Chamberlain went from the bullpen to the rotation and made 12 starts before suffering rotator cuff tendinitis.

The next year, he had a subpar season as a starter, posting a 4.75 ERA in 31 starts.

In 2010, he went to the 'pen after Phil Hughes beat him for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. There, Chamberlain pitched 73 games and had a dismal 4.40 ERA.

In 2011, he did just fine in 27 appearances, posting a 2.75 ERA. But his season was stopped short by a torn ligament in his right elbow, which required Tommy John surgery.

Then came the trampoline incident that dislocated his right ankle.

The ship has probably sailed on Chamberlain, even though he's just 25 years old. He's gone through so many different roles and so many ailments in five years that he may never completely fulfill his potential.

The White Sox can prevent that from happening with Sale, the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft.

First, his role needs to remain consistent. Sale knows what role fits him as well as anyone. In fact, he lobbied the White Sox front office to let him start. As White Sox GM Kenny Williams said, "He was adamant [he wanted to start] to the point he almost crossed the line."

Sale told that he felt awful in his return to the bullpen last week, saying, "I was a wreck. I was pacing back and forth."

Since Sale knows he belongs and feels at home in the rotation, the White Sox shouldn't mess with his place on the pitching staff.

White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper should recognize that the southpaw belongs there. Since Cooper is charged with watching and guiding personnel changes in the area, he should take into consideration Sale's sentiments and belief.

Besides, pitchers are creatures of emotion, and they don't do well when taken out of their element.

Second, Cooper needs to be careful about Sale's health. Arm soreness is serious in this age of baseball. Sometimes soreness is more serious than it might appear; soreness might end up being tendinitis or something worse.

Cooper wasn't serious enough about Sale's injury. Via, he told WSCR-AM 670 Chicago that Sale was healthy. Also, he said that the team didn't discuss putting him on the disabled list, stating that it wasn't an option.

Now, if the White Sox were serious playoff contenders and this were happening in August instead of May, then that attitude might be a bit more understandable, but the White Sox aren't real contenders.

Third, the White Sox need to consider what might happen to Sale if they continue to yo-yo him. He could experience a serious, and consistent, drop-off in form, as Chamberlain did.

The 23-year-old Sale didn't start well in his return to the rotation on Saturday. He allowed three runs in the first inning to the Kansas City Royals. After the game, Sale told the Chicago Sun-Times:

The first inning was terrible. I didn't have any of my offspeed stuff working. I threw the ball all over the place. But I settled down after that. I was mentally and physically prepared for this start like any other. I just didn't have the command of the offspeed stuff working.

Maybe he'll find his groove once he's settled back down in his role in the starting rotation.

Sale is a very talented pitcher who could be a front-end starter. At that, the White Sox could be looking for him to lead the rotation in a couple of years. In order for that to happen, the White Sox would have to take care of him, making sure he's both mentally and physically well.

They wouldn't want him to become another player about whom fans wonder what could have been.