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.

Report: Phillies, Giants interested in Jeurys Familia

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ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that the Phillies and Giants are among the teams interested in Mets closer Jeurys Familia. Olney adds that the Phillies may prefer to wait to see what happens on the Manny Machado and Zach Britton fronts before moving on to Familia.

Familia, 28, has racked up 17 saves with a 2.88 ERA and a 43/14 K/BB ratio for the Mets this season across 40 2/3 innings. It’s been a good bounce-back year after struggling and battling a blood clot in his right shoulder in 2017.

Familia would be a rental for any team that would acquire him, as he’s a free agent after the season. Regardless, he ranks among the best relievers available heading into the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Both teams could use the bullpen help. The Phillies’ bullpen is largely young and inexperienced, and has battled inconsistency in the first half. The Giants are without closer Hunter Strickland and only got Mark Melancon back last month.