Chris Sale moves back to the pen, takes over as White Sox closer

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Now this one is a real shocker: Chris Sale, who has been very impressive in opening the season 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA in his rotation debut for the White Sox, will move back to the pen and take over as the team’s closer, it was announced Friday.

Health concerns are the obvious reasoning behind the switch, though the White Sox indicated he’d be ready to pitch out of the pen right away. It’s a bizarre move if it’s completely preemptive. If it’s not and he is hurting now, then it’s still bizarre, since it’d make sense to give him at least a week or two off.

From a performance standpoint, Sale’s move to the rotation couldn’t have possibly gone any better. Not only was his record sterling, but he had cut down on the walks and become more efficient with his pitches. On April 25, he needed just 101 pitches — 71 strikes — to get through eight innings against the A’s. In his win Tuesday, he threw 88 pitches in six innings against the Indians.

This also certainly isn’t a case of the White Sox needing Sale more in the bullpen than in the rotation. Hector Santiago had struggled in the closer’s role, but he never figured to be more than the team’s fourth or fifth best reliever anyway. Addison Reed, who has all the makings of a long-term closer, still hasn’t given up a run in 8 2/3 innings this year. Matt Thornton has a 2.38 ERA.  Jesse Crain, though hurt at the moment, is another quality arm.

Meanwhile, the White Sox are likely taking a big downgrade in the rotation by promoting Dylan Axelrod into Crain’s spot. Axelrod was a great find for the team after being let go by the Padres, but he’s not going to open eyes with his stuff. He’s probably going to be a long-term middle reliever, as opposed to a decent fourth or fifth starter.

All in all, it seems like a very odd choice from the outside looking in. Still, if the White Sox think this is the best way to keep Sale healthy, we’ll just have to trust them on that for now. It is a real shame, though. Sale was looking like a legitimate No. 2 starter, and he’s never going to produce that kind of value out of the pen.

Giants place Hunter Pence on 10-day disabled list with right thumb sprain

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The Giants placed outfielder Hunter Pence on the 10-day disabled list with a right thumb sprain, per an official announcement on Friday. Pence initially sustained the injury during the club’s home opener on April 3, when he dove to intercept a line drive double from Robinson Cano and jammed his thumb. Weeks of playing through the pain hasn’t worked, so he’ll take a breather while the Giants give outfielder Mac Williamson a chance to start in left after getting called up from Triple-A Fresno.

Pence, 35, wouldn’t pin his recent struggles on his injury, but it’s clear that he’s having difficulty finding his footing this year. He slashed a meager .172/.197/.190 through 61 plate appearances in 2018, collecting just one extra-base hit and two walks during the Giants’ dismal 7-11 stretch. While it’s far too early in the season to make any final judgments, it doesn’t look like the veteran outfielder will be replicating the .275+ average, 4.0+ fWAR totals of years past (at least, not anytime soon).

Williamson, meanwhile, has gotten off to a hot start in Triple-A. Prior to his call-up this weekend, the 27-year-old batted an incredible .487/.600/1.026 with six home runs and a 1.626 OPS through his first 50 PA. A hot Triple-A bat doesn’t always survive the transition to the majors, but the Giants will use all the help they can get — especially as they take on the AL West-leading Angels this weekend.