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Sale finishes third in AL Cy Young Award voting

Left-hander falls in behind Kluber, Hernandez for league's top pitcher
MLB.com @scottmerkin

CHICAGO -- Back in 2012, during a Chris Sale start early in his first season as part of the rotation following a two-year bullpen stint, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper remembers an in-game conversation he had with the young hurler.

Sale told Cooper that he was throwing somewhere around 89-91 mph but the opposing hitters consistently were pounding the ball into the ground.

CHICAGO -- Back in 2012, during a Chris Sale start early in his first season as part of the rotation following a two-year bullpen stint, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper remembers an in-game conversation he had with the young hurler.

Sale told Cooper that he was throwing somewhere around 89-91 mph but the opposing hitters consistently were pounding the ball into the ground.

"He was pitching to contact and he kept doing it," said Cooper of Sale, who finished a career-best third in the Baseball Writers' Association of America 2014 American League Cy Young Award voting. "At the end of the second year, he was pitching to not so much contact. Now he's going out there trying to come right at them from the get-go, stuff-wise."

Cleveland's Corey Kluber won his first Cy Young Award with 17 first-place votes and 169 points, followed by Seattle's Felix Hernandez's 159 points and 13 first-place votes. Sale finished with 78 points and two second-place votes, while also garnering 19 third-place votes. Sale was in the top five on every ballot but one.

There was slightly less of a '14 workload for Sale, who missed from April 17-May 22 or approximately six starts, because of a flexor muscle strain. But with 174 innings and 26 trips to the mound, the season statistics for Sale stand out as equally impressive in comparison to the top two pitchers.

The southpaw posted a 2.17 ERA, second only to Hernandez, and finished with a 0.97 WHIP that also ranked second to the Seattle ace. He struck out 208, walked 39 and yielded a mere 129 hits. His adjusted ERA+ of 178 led the AL and his 2.57 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) trailed only Kluber and Hernandez.

Left-handed hitters finished just 20-for-121 against Sale, who had an overall average against of .205, with two doubles standing as the lone extra-base hits among 128 left-handed plate appearances. With his funky motion added into his electric stuff, Sale probably would lead the unofficial category of pitcher opposing hitters least like to face.

"He's my Cy Young, that's for sure," said Cooper of Sale, while also praising Kluber for his well-deserved honor. "He has just tremendous stuff, and he's just a tremendous pitcher."

Most people following Major League Baseball and the White Sox, in particular, believe Sale will win a Cy Young or maybe two before his career comes to a close. In '13, Sale finished fifth in the Cy Young voting with 44 points and one first-place vote. He finished sixth in his first season as a starter with 17 points.

Even during his starter's debut, when Cooper spoke of Sale's pitching to contact revelation, Sale still fanned 192 over 192 innings. He reached 226 strikeouts over 214 1/3 innings in '13, and by Cooper's own admission, the White Sox and Sale are searching for a hybrid between that contact and strikeout stuff.

More strikeouts usually mean more pitches for Sale, who had eight games with double-digit strikeouts this past season but just one in which he issued more than three walks. So the White Sox are focused on getting their ace as deep into the game as possible, while keeping him equally as healthy.

"We've got to find a way to No. 1, keep him healthy. That's the main thing when I think of Chris," Cooper said. "And two, to continue going out there pitching seven, eight or nine innings, which is what a prime starter does. And he's certainly one of those guys.

"We are watching sidelines, watching how much catch he plays, watching pitch totals, watching conditioning. Certainly [White Sox head athletic trainer] Herm Schneider has his hands on every one of our guys.

"Those are things we do. We don't just do it for Chris. We do that for everyone," Cooper said. "We do it for relievers, too. We have run into injuries, but check our records and I bet we are near the top in the business keeping our guys healthy. If they are healthy, they all can go out there and do what we envision they can do, which is help us win."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Chicago White Sox, Chris Sale