CHICAGO - Until his last few years with the White Sox, Mark Buehrle was a major Twins nemesis. Buehrle has taken his talents to South Beach and the Miami Marlins, but there's another lefthander in the Windy City who could be a pest to the Twins for years.
He's Chris Sale, a 23-year old from Lakeland, Fla., who locked down the Twins on Wednesday as Chicago pulled away to a 6-0 victory at U.S. Cellular Field. While Buehrle is a professor of precision, Sale packs power. Sale's fastball reached 94 miles per hour Wednesday, to go with a hard slider and changeup. And it was too much for Twins hitters, who couldn't square up a ball against the kid all night.
"Sale was really good on us," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Really didn't give us much of a chance."
Sale, in his first career start against the Twins, held them to two hits and two walks over seven innings with six strikeouts as he improved to 5-2. The two hits were Joe Mauer's infield single in the first and Trevor Plouffe's bloop single to right in the fifth.
With a sidearm-like delivery, Sale's pitches come in from the first base side of the mound. For a lefthanded hitter, the ball comes at them from the right side of their viewing pane.
"Hard to see the ball, period, because of the angle where he's coming from," said Twins outfielder Denard Span, who grounded out three times and struck out against Sale. "It's coming from behind you and you don't pick up the ball until it's on you. His fastball was moving a lot."
That spells doom for the Twins -- if Sale stays in the rotation.
Sale, a reliever last season, was 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA through five starts this season. But he came down with a tender elbow, and the White Sox tried to move him to the bullpen to reduce his innings. He was returned to the rotation a few days later after convincing the White Sox he was fine. He sure looked it Wednesday as he changed speeds and used his slider well.
"He's pitching well and he's always been a hard thrower with a great slider," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said, "but it's all coming together for him."
Twins lefthander Scott Diamond dropped to 3-1, ending an impressive run after he was called up from Class AAA Rochester to steady a sinking rotation.
Diamond went six innings but only two of the five runs off him were earned. He walked two and struck out six before being replaced by Alex Burnett for the bottom of the seventh inning.
Diamond deserved a better fate, as Jamey Carroll (fielding), Brian Dozier (throwing) and Darin Mastroianni (missed fly ball) committed errors.
Carroll's error, on a potential double-play ball, led to an RBI single by Adam Dunn in the first. Diamond left a fastball over too much of the plate in the fourth, leading to a two-run homer by Alex Rios that made it 3-0.
Mastroianni's error was part of a two-run sixth as Chicago took a 5-0 lead. Konerko, who was 3-for-4, added a solo homer in the seventh to make it 6-0. Konerko, 36, is batting .381.
Buehrle was 27-19 against the Twins in his career and 22-8 against them through 2007, easily the most victories by him against any opponent. If Sale can stay healthy and keep developing as a pitcher, the Twins could have a new nemesis.
"The more at-bats you have on a guy, obviously you are going to get more comfortable," Span said, "but if he can continue to get better he will be a thorn in our sides for a while."