CHICAGO – Chris Sale is a dominant power pitcher with the potential for a double-digit strikeout performance every time he takes the mound.
But the White Sox ace said his focus against the San Diego Padres on Sunday was being economical.
"The philosophy is 'on or out in three,' so I was just trying to fill the zone with quality strikes and go from there," he said.
Sale pitched a two-hitter, Paul Konerko homered and the Sox posted 4-1 victory to avoid being swept.
Sale (5-0) struck out nine, walked none and threw 100 pitches in the complete game performance that lasted just 2:08.
He froze Everth Cabrera for a called strike three to end the game, and retired the final 14 batters.
Sale has allowed just two earned runs in his last 25 innings spanning four starts, and has a 1.59 ERA overall. The lefty was on the disabled list in late April because of a strained muscle in his pitching arm.
Because of that, Sale was on a pitch count – the Sox wouldn't say how many – but he never was in danger of being removed because he was so efficient.
"I think the rain-shortened start and then pitching on his regular turn, he was fresh," San Diego manager Bud Black said, referring to Sale's last start on Tuesday when he went just three innings.
"We haven't seen him during the regular season, but you can see why this guy's one of the best pitchers in the American League: deceptive delivery, good velocity, really good change, good breaking ball," he said. "He had it working today."
Konerko also doubled and drove in three runs as the White Sox won for the eighth time in 13 games. The veteran slugger has been playing every day with rookie Jose Abreu on the disabled list, but that is scheduled to end Monday when Abreu is activated.
"I'm just trying to chip in," Konerko said. "I'm here to have good days against left-handed pitching like that, and you try to do your best on the other days when you have to play like it's been. It's been a bit of a whirlwind the past couple weeks getting back in there and playing, but it's good to have it today with the way (Sale) pitched."
Eric Stults (2-6) gave up four runs and five hits in six innings.
Sale sailed through the first four innings, retiring 12 straight batters to start the game.
Konerko gave the Sox a 1-0 lead in the second when he hit a drive to the back of the left-field bullpen for his third homer of the season.
Chase Headley led off the Padres fifth with his fifth homer. Tommy Medica followed with a single, but Sale quickly regrouped. He got Jedd Gyorko to ground into a double play and struck out Yonder Alonso to end the inning.
"I don't think he missed any of that one," Sale said of Headley's homer. "It was a fastball left right there for him and you can't do that to him. He's a big, strong guy and made me pay for it, obviously."
It was a rare mistake. Through eight innings he had thrown just 84 pitches, making the decision to bring him out for the ninth that much easier for manager Robin Ventura.
The Sox regained the lead in the fifth on a solo homer by Tyler Flowers. They added two more in the sixth when Konerko doubled down the left-field line with two out, driving in Dayan Viciedo and Alexei Ramirez.
That was plenty of offense for Sale.
"He was fantastic today," Ventura said. "This was as efficient as he has been ever from watching him. He was pounding the strike zone and down in the zone, too."