CHICAGO -- Chris Sale in 2015 featured a large number of swings and misses from opposing hitters, leading to a single-season franchise-record 274 strikeouts.
In this campaign, Sale's strikeouts check in at a noticeable 26 over 30-plus innings. But the White Sox ace has been more focused upon earlier contact in the count.
Through four starts, the plan has worked to near perfection.
Sale moved to 4-0 for the second time, after starting a career-best 5-0 in 2014, with a 2-1 victory over the Angels on Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field. He has worked at least seven innings in each start and has been scored upon in just four of the 30-plus innings.
His pitch count has yet to go over 108, which was Wednesday's total, despite the quality work deep into games.
"For me, the most important thing is try to keep those guys down there [in the bullpen] out of it as much as we can," Sale said. "We use our guys in the 'pen a lot, so any time we can give them a day off, eat a couple more innings than usual, that's what we try to do."
"He has really looked good," said White Sox closer David Robertson, who worked 1 1/3 innings for his sixth save in six chances. "He's been mixing and matching a lot better this year than I've ever seen him. He's staying down in the zone, making quality pitches when he needs to and he's getting that weaker contact he needs to get outs."
Weaker contact against the Angels featured seven fly-ball outs over his seven-plus innings, a start which ended when Sale hit Kole Calhoun on a 1-2 pitch opening the eighth. Sale struck out three and didn't issue a walk, now having gone 21 consecutive innings without a fee pass.
Los Angeles entered Wednesday as the second-toughest team to strike out. So the plan made sense to attack early in the count.
"He's going to get his strikeouts. We're not worried about that," White Sox catcher Alex Avila said. "It's a matter of him being more efficient. He knows when to take off his fastball, and get back on it a little. Same thing with his breaking ball, throw it at two different speeds and at different angles.
"They put the ball in play and tend to have good at-bats. So you have to pick your spots. You can run yourself out of a game real quick. You can still pitch well, but it could be a five-inning game for him."
Changing speeds on the three pitches Sale has effectively gives him five or six pitches, per Avila. Sale makes the job easy for his catchers, but not so much for the opposition.
"You get one pitch to hit. You miss it, he'll put you in a hole," said Angels center fielder Mike Trout, who had both hits off Sale. "He's throwing his fastball from like 90 to 97 [mph]. He changes speeds.
"As a hitter, it's tough on you. You visualize a fastball in your head, and if he takes three, four miles off that heater, it comes out a little slower and gets your timing all messed up."