MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Sale appreciates those who aided success

AL All-Star Game starter recalls Gwynn, mentors and others as having impact on accomplishments

Sale appreciates those who aided success

SAN DIEGO -- There's no place Chris Sale would rather be tonight than Petco Park. He'll cherish the chance to be the guy who is warming up in the American League bullpen when Rachel Platten sings the national anthem before the All-Star Game presented by MasterCard (6:30 p.m. CT on FOX).

Sale will be focused completely on the task at hand by that point, thinking of little else besides the pitches that he'll need to retire Ben Zobrist, Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant. But Sale admits to having a lot of people on his mind in the hours before pulling on his uniform.

Among those, surprisingly, is the late Tony Gwynn.

Petco is known as "The House that Gwynn Built," and Sale says his life was changed by the way the Hall of Famer died, at age 54 from complications resulting from an oral cancer linked to smokeless tobacco.

"I chewed tobacco from 2007 until the day he passed away,'' Sale said on Monday. "I remember seeing that, just being so shocked. He was a larger-than-life person. He was an inspiration to the game for many, many people for lots of different reasons. I quit that day and haven't touched it since.''

Not many people are successful at quitting an addiction cold turkey. But the White Sox left-hander isn't like most people. Sale has shown that by making the All-Star team in each of his five full seasons as a Major League starter, consistently defying concerns that his thin build and crossfire delivery would limit his workload.

Royals manager Ned Yost, who is running the AL All-Star team, called it an easy choice to pick Sale for the start.

"Being in my division, I've had a chance to watch him develop into a superstar pitcher,'' Yost said. "I remember the first time I saw him throwing a 99-mph fastball and a nasty, nasty slider. [I've] watched him evolve into even a better pitcher now because he's developed a phenomenal changeup to go along with that nasty fastball and that slider. We're excited to have Chris start for us.''

Sale tabbed to start All-Star Game for AL

Yost said he would have started Sale instead of Houston's Dallas Keuchel in the 2015 game at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, but the schedule didn't work out. Sale had thrown 115 pitches the Saturday before against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and the White Sox preferred Sale be rested and ready for the second half.

The lefty enters Tuesday's game 14-3 with a 3.38 ERA (ironically his highest ERA as a starter at the All-Star break). But the statistic Sale is the proudest of are his three complete games and 125 innings, which, like his win total, lead the league.

The 27-year-old set a White Sox record with 274 strikeouts last season, but he began this season trying to conserve himself early in starts so he could pitch deeper into games. Sale was averaging more than an inning extra in his first 10 starts but tailed off in June and July. He's on pace for a career-high 230 innings over 33 starts.

Sale's average fastball this season has been 93.8 mph, down from 95.6 a year ago. He can still run his fastball up to 97 or 98 mph when the game situation dictates, but he only dials it up when he needs it. That's the result, Sale says, of conversations with White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper after last season.

Sale on All-Star start, Quintana

"I've had a lot of good people, lot of good mentors, coaches along the way to get me where I am,'' Sale said. "This wasn't just me figuring it out on my own. I've had a lot of people pushing me in the right direction, teammates, family and coaches. I'm just very appreciative of all that to get me where I am today.''

Sale's pitch-to-contact adjustments are not in his game plan for this start, however.

"I plan on just letting it eat for an inning, really,'' Sale said. "Just getting after it. There are really no repercussions that come from this game, other than just having fun and competing. That's what I'm going to try to do.''

Sale says his career has been "a lot of fun,'' but he's gotten where he is -- 71-43 with a 2.97 ERA in 1,008 1/3 career innings -- by never taking a shortcut. He gained some velocity from 2014 to '15 after spending the offseason working hard on his leg strength. Sale added exercises to his routine last offseason designed to go along with his goal of pitching deeper into the games.

Sale, a native of Lakeland, Fla., lives with his wife, Brianne, and their two children near Fort Myers, Fla., where he pitched collegiately at Florida Gulf Coast University. He's worked out for the past four offseasons with trainer Rick Lademann, in Naples, Fla.

Last offseason, they worked Monday-Friday, beginning about Nov. 1. The workouts included stretching, weight work and a day of Pilates training.

"He's a skinny guy but strong,'' Lademann told the Chicago Tribune.

It figures that Sale would take his health seriously enough to kick his tobacco habit to the curb. The shame is that it took Gwynn's death to motivate him.

"In a sense, I owe him a huge thank you, not only for myself but my family,'' Sale said. "Hopefully, I can sway somebody in the right direction as well, as he did me.''

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.