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Sale taking steps to reach elite level

CHICAGO -- If there were a title affixed to Chris Sale's 2012 performance as part of the White Sox rotation, it would read something like "The Education of a Cy Young Candidate."

At 23 and in his first big league season as a starter, Sale soaked up every piece of knowledge he could find during the course of the year.

"It's nice to get that first year out of the way, but I learned so much going through it: who I am and how my body reacts," Sale told during a phone interview from his Florida home. "I was learning from guys on the team, too, and I also learned from pitchers around the league, watching top-of-the-rotation guys step up and be that leader.

"You see what those guys do, catapulting their teams. Everyone wants to be that guy, striving to be the best you can be and best for the team. That's exactly what they did."

In talking about those ace hurlers, Sale was looking at pitchers such as Tampa Bay's David Price, Detroit's Justin Verlander and the Angels' Jered Weaver. They just happened to finished 1-2-3 in the 2012 American League Cy Young Award voting.

Sale certainly was no slouch, posting an impressive 17-8 record with a 3.05 ERA and 192 strikeouts over a career-high 192 innings. Those numbers were good enough to earn Sale a trip to the All-Star Game, as well as one third-place vote, four fourth-place votes and six fifth-place votes in the Cy Young balloting, leaving him sixth overall.

To even be mentioned in this group was termed "an honor" by Sale. Price put together a 4-0 record in September and the Rays won all five of his quality starts in a month when the team couldn't afford to take one step back if it wanted to stay in playoff contention.

Verlander reached the postseason with the AL Central champion Tigers, and he finished off the A's on 122 pitches to lock down a five-game Division Series victory. There's also New York's CC Sabathia, who didn't receive a Cy Young vote, but showed his frontline ace value by shutting down the Orioles over 121 pitches in the deciding Game 5 of their first-round playoff battle.

None of these top-notch hurlers are infallible. It's still a consistent level of dominance Sale hopes to achieve, after finishing just a bit inconsistently down the stretch as he reached uncharted waters in terms of his workload.

Work toward that level already began last Tuesday, as Sale started a "crossfit" sort of workout program with a personal trainer in Naples, Fla.

"I'm actually doing Pilates, too," said Sale with a laugh. "I want to get stretched out and loosened up to build a strong foundation."

As for throwing, Sale started last November in preparation for the 2012 campaign but was encouraged by pitching coach Don Cooper to wait until January for this coming season after surpassing his previous career high by 56 innings. Sale hopes to get his arm moving by playing light catch in mid to late December, but will get in touch with Cooper over the next few weeks to map out a throwing program and stay in contact with him weekly during the build-up process.

Concern over Sale won't necessarily lessen with Year 1 of starting behind him. It will change thanks to the proof of a highly successful full season with 29 starts among his 30 appearances.

"He's going to be treated like any other starter," said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. "We are cautious with our guys and cognizant of the challenges that come with any six-month Major League pitching regimen.

"Entering Spring Training with Chris, it's not going to be with the same restrictions or quite the same concerns as 2012. He has established himself as a front-end-of-the-rotation starter in the AL and we look forward to seeing where it goes from here."

The signing of Jake Peavy to a two-year extension by the White Sox made a major impact on Sale because Peavy was such a strong influence during the course of the 2012 campaign. That influence upon Sale was felt through competitive nature, getting ready for each start and just the art of pitching in general.

Soon the student could be surpassing the teacher as the White Sox ace and potential Cy Young winner like Peavy in 2007 or like Price, whom Sale strongly supported as this year's AL award winner. Sale certainly has the talent, intense competitive nature and makeup to reach another more extreme elite status in the next level of his education process.

"I don't have a crystal ball, but I would like to be able to be that guy and not for myself, but to help my team," Sale said. "I learned a lot from our guys like that, Jake and John [Danks] both.

"Just seeing what they do and how they do it and how they speak and how they carry themselves. A lot of thanks goes to them and everybody in this clubhouse as well."

Chicago White Sox, Chris Sale