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Sale about to start a new era for White Sox

Opening Day honor foreshadows lefty's transition to face of White Sox franchise

CHICAGO -- Bring up the idea that Chris Sale is the White Sox's next face of the franchise and it's immediately met with a laugh from the southpaw making his second straight Opening Day start.

Make that, a laugh and a look of humorous shock and indignation. The soon-to-be 25-year-old and two-time All-Star might be one of the few who doesn't see the franchise making the transformation from captain Paul Konerko, who will retire after 16 seasons with the White Sox, to Sale in that very unofficial role.

"That doesn't even sound good. It's weird to me, obviously," Sale said. "I don't look at myself in the same light. I don't even consider myself in the same sentence as Paul Konerko, in terms of history and White Sox and what he's done for this team. I don't think I could in a career unless some crazy things happen.

"So to hear something like that is crazy, but it's an honor to be thought of like that. For me, it's just showing up, playing baseball and going about my business."

Sale has only been a starter for two Cy Young-worthy years and has been in the Majors for parts of four. Yet, it seems as if every story about the talented lefty already has been told with his quick rise to notoriety.

He's 6-foot-6, but only 180 pounds. Heard it. He's got a funky delivery with a lower arm angle. Heard it and heard that one again.

And of course, Sale is the ultimate underdog story, coming from a Florida Golf Coast University that is not exactly known as a perennial baseball powerhouse. Heard that one too.

As Sale pointed out during Spring Training, he once had a peacefully quiet locker off in the distance and away from the media glare. But over the past six weeks, everyone wanted to know what he's doing, when he's doing it and why it's happening.

This status elevation certainly has been earned.

Since 2012, Sale ranks first among AL starters in strikeout/walk ratio at 4.31. He's third in strikeouts per nine innings at 9.26 and tied for fourth with his five complete games. He ranks in the Top 10 in no less than 10 other categories.

His 226 strikeouts last season topped Gary Peters (215 in '67) for the franchise's best in a single season by a left-hander. His 10 games of 10 or more strikeouts tie him for sixth in that White Sox category over just 59 starts. Ed Walsh leads at 17 -- a feat accomplished in 312 starts.

His movement, his fastball, his devastating slider, his changeup that could take him to greater heights as it gets more refined. All of that information has been processed. So, what hasn't really been discussed about Sale?

Here are a few topics gleaned from around the team:

• Upon his selection at No. 13 overall in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, the White Sox had designs on making Sale a starter. He also pitched out of the bullpen in '10 and '11, and would have been fine settling in as the White Sox closer with a fastball that averaged 96.3 mph and 95.3 mph, respectively, in those first two years, according to Fangraphs.

"Just instant adrenaline and everything like that, and the pressure of the game is instant. That's what I enjoyed about it," Sale said about relieving. "I also pitch once every fifth day now.

"If I have a good one, I want to get back out there and the same thing if you go out there and have a bad one. You want to get back out there as well. That's what I liked about relieving. You could be out two or three days in a row or four times in a week. But my first dream always was as a starter."

• His wiry frame does not come from a lack of food intake.

"It's amazing really how much he eats," Konerko said. "He eats fast food every day and doesn't gain a pound. That's the first thing that impresses me about him."

• There's more to Sale than dominant mound performances, such as his one-hitter tossed at home against the Angels last season on May 12, when the first 19 batters were retired before Mike Trout's single.

"Every day, he kills me in ping pong," said John Danks, Sale's rotation mate and good friend.

Twenty-four hours before that 2010 First-Year Player Draft, the White Sox didn't think Sale was a possibility at No. 13. They were thrilled that he slipped, knowing Sale's immense talent and his chance to be a leader.

"Nothing fazed him," said White Sox assistant scouting director Nick Hostetler, who had Sale No. 1 on his follow list after watching him a number of times. "He was the same guy pitching at Clemson or pitching at FGCU. I saw him at the Cape Cod All-Star Game at Fenway Park, and that was the best I saw him."

There's one more overriding fact concerning Sale, provided by pitching coach Don Cooper, that most people already know. It's still worth another mention: Sale wants to be the best, for himself and for his team.

When he takes the mound against the Twins at 3:10 p.m. CT on Monday in Chicago, he'll be taking another step in that direction. Wanted or not, he'll also be taking another step as the franchise's marquee attraction.

"Sailor is up in that echelon of guys where you hear his name and it gets your attention. He's earned that," Konerko said. "There's a lot of nights he just kind of really doesn't have the stuff he had when he was coming out of the bullpen throwing 100, but he knows how to get outs even when he doesn't have his best stuff.

"On the days he doesn't have it, that's when you see what you're dealing with on the inside of the guy. When he has his great slider and he's throwing 96, I'm more amazed when someone gets hits."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin.

Chicago White Sox, Paul Konerko, Chris Sale