Lester continues rare early-season roll

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Lester continues rare early-season roll

By MaureenMullen
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Getting through the month of April successfully has not been easy in the past for Jon Lester. Before this year he had posted a record of 3-6 with a 4.76 ERA for the first month of the season.

Those difficulties, it appears, are in the past.

This year, Lester has not needed a one-month delay to jumpstart his season. After Tuesday nights 7-3 win over the Angels at Fenway Park, he improved to 4-1 with a 2.33 ERA. He went seven innings, allowing one run a Mark Trumbo home run in the second inning with six hits, one walk, and 11 strikeouts, a season high. It was the 15th double-digit strikeout performance of Lesters career.

I think its really encouraging, manager Terry Francona said of Lesters strong start to the season, because the last couple years Aprils been so tough for him, and once he seems to find it he doesnt lose it. I think thats really good news. Tuesday night he went out and established his fastball and used it a lot. Hes got so many different weapons and I think I said in spring training, when he knows he can repeat his pitches hes a different pitcher.

Against the Angels on Tuesday, though, Lester was much the same pitcher he was against them in Anaheim last month when he shut them out through six innings. Of four wins this season, two have come at the expense of the Angels. In 13 combined innings he has allowed just one run on 10 hits with 3 walks and 19 strikeouts.

Lester had at least one strikeout in each inning Tuesday, and recorded all three outs in the seventh, his final inning, on K's (with a Jeff Mathis single in the mix). It was his fourth straight win and sixth straight quality start in seven outings. In four of his starts, he has struck out eight or more, joining only Detroits Justin Verlander, the Cubs Matt Garza, and Philadelphias Cole Hamels with at least four such games this season.

Just was able to repeat a good rhythm, good effort level, didn't really overthrow a lot of balls tonight, Lester said. So that part was good. Kept that same effort level pretty much through the whole game.

Lester threw just 93 pitches (66 for strikes), the fewest he has thrown since 88 over 5 13 innings on Opening Day in Texas. He felt strong enough to continue, but without a day off until May 12, Francona opted to be cautious.

I just think we got to take care of him, Francona said. Were going through a stretch here where there arent any days off and hes throwing pretty hard and its early. So just want to take care of him.

The Sox offense could do little against the Angels' Dan Haren, until the third time through the order, in the sixth inning, when they scored two runs to give Lester a precarious one-run lead. The Sox bats broke the game open in the seventh and eighth, scoring a combined five runs off Haren and reliever Hisanori Takahashi.

Sometimes its nice to sit in the dugout for a while and watch guys do what they did in the eighth Lester said. But its fun to have those battles every once in a while, to see whos going to make the first mistake. I did early. Just try to hang around as best we could, keep them within striking distance. Guys did a good job of grinding at-bats out. Haren did a good job early on, too. Our offense did a great job grinding at-bats, waiting for that one opportunity to strike and we did and we took advantage of it and its always fun to see.

That kind of a battle is not always appreciated by everyone.

Im glad Lester likes it, because I sure as heck dont, said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. But its fun. Its fun to sit back there and make every pitch count, which he does anyways. Just to see him come out on top is great.

Saltalamacchia has caught six of Lesters seven starts this season and has watched the left-hander get stronger with each.

His bullpen before he came in the game, he was a little rough and wasnt sure and didnt have a feel, Saltalamacchia said. And as soon as the lights turned on and they said play ball, he was right there. But . . . definitely, every start's looking better and better.

With Lester starting strong not needing to find it as Francona mentioned it can only bode well for the Sox.

I dont feel any different compared to years past at the beginning of the season, Lester said. Like Ive always said, its about executing pitches and Ive had -- except for this year -- yet to do that at the beginning of the season. I was able to do that, velocity came a little bit earlier than normal. So I think that helps. Feel for a changeup helps. Theres different things that help. But at the same time its about execution. I didn't do that in years past and fortunately have been able to do that this year.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen

White Sox suspend Chris Sale over uniform flap

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White Sox suspend Chris Sale over uniform flap

CHICAGO - The Chicago White Sox were set to wear throwback uniforms. Chris Sale had other ideas.

The White Sox suspended their ace five days without pay for destroying collared throwback uniforms the team was scheduled to wear.

The team announced the punishment on Sunday after Sale was scratched from his scheduled start and sent home the previous night.

The suspension comes to $250,000 of his $9.15 million salary. He was also fined about $12,700 - the cost of the destroyed jerseys - according to a person familiar with the penalty. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized.

"Obviously we're all extremely disappointed that we have to deal with this issue at this time both from the standpoint of the club as well as Chris' perspective," general manager Rick Hahn said. "It's unfortunate that it has become this level of an issue and potential distraction taking away from what we're trying to accomplish on the field."

Sale was not expected at the ballpark on Sunday. He is eligible to return Thursday against the crosstown Cubs at Wrigley Field, though Hahn would not say if the left-hander would start that game.

The Major League Baseball Players Association declined comment, spokesman Greg Bouris said. Sale could ask the union to file a grievance.

FanRag Sports first reported Sale was protesting the 1976-style jerseys, which were navy and sported unusual collars on a hot and humid night.

Sale then cut up an unknown number of jerseys before the game and was told to leave the stadium. With not enough usable 1976 jerseys available, the White Sox wore white throwback uniforms from the 1983 season.

The incident comes with the White Sox in a tailspin after a 23-10 start and Sale's name circulating in trade rumors.

"The actions or behaviors of the last 24 hours does not change in any aspect, any respect, our belief that Chris Sale can help this club win a championship and win multiple championships," Hahn said. "It does not move the needle one iota in terms of his value to this club, his value to any other club that may be interested in his services or the likelihood of him being moved or kept whatsoever. None of that stuff is impacted at all by these events."

The incident does raise some questions in general about throwback uniforms, how players feel about them and whether they should be forced to wear jerseys that aren't comfortable - particularly starting pitchers.

"If I'm playing with Chris Sale I want him to pitch," Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said. "If he wants to play with no shirt, we play with no shirt. I just want him to pitch."

New York Yankees pitcher Chasen Shreve said: "Pitchers like their stuff. Me, it doesn't bother me, but for him, obviously it does. It's crazy. I don't think I'm that bad."

White Sox pitcher James Shields wouldn't comment on whether players should be made to wear throwback jerseys. But he did say: "I don't really mind the throwbacks. I haven't had any issues with that."

Manager Robin Ventura said players occasionally wearing uniforms they don't like comes with the job.

"But you wear it," he said. "If you want to rip it after, you can rip it up after. I've seen guys rip it up after."

Hahn said throwback uniforms the White Sox wore last season were a bit baggy so the team took measurements in spring training so they would fit the players better. He also mentioned the money the uniforms generate.

"Part of the element of being in position to win a championship is the revenue side of the operation and respect for their reasonable requests to increase revenue," Hahn said.

This wasn't the first flare-up involving the 27-year-old Sale, who is known for his competitive streak and strict training regimen.

He was openly critical of team executive Ken Williams during spring training when he said Drake LaRoche, the son of teammate Adam LaRoche, would no longer be allowed in the clubhouse. Adam LaRoche retired as a result, and Sale hung the LaRoches' jerseys in his locker.

He was also suspended five games by Major League Baseball last season for his role in a brawl at Kansas City that started with a flare-up between teammate Adam Eaton and the Royals' Yordano Ventura. Sale went to the Royals clubhouse after he got tossed and was seen pounding on the door.

Hahn said the punishment was unrelated to previous incidents. He also said the two had a "very candid" meeting in his office with Sale after the pitcher had some exchanges with staff members in the clubhouse and that both "expressed remorse." They spoke again on Sunday.

"At that point last night Chris stood by his actions," Hahn said. "Part of what makes Chris great, part of what makes him elite, is his passion and commitment. We've seen that sometimes spill out from between the white lines. Yesterday was one of those instances and it unfortunately led to events that required discipline."