Chris Sale is in a pitching zone.
Not the rarified air usually found by the White Sox ace. Instead, he's pitching in a manner where giving up a hit basically becomes a surprise.
Sale takes the mound against the Angels on Saturday with a 5-0 record and 1.59 ERA -- not exactly bad accomplishments in the hitter-rich American League. He's coming off of a complete-game victory over the Padres, against whom he allowed one run on two hits. But even more impressively, Sale has allowed three hits and one walk over 18 innings since his return from the disabled list, striking out 23.
Take that stretch back to a start against Boston on April 17, and Sale has yielded four hits and four walks over 25 innings with 33 strikeouts.
"It's just his control," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of Sale's run of excellence. "In the past he might have had that one at-bat where he throws four straight balls. He just hasn't had that.
"His stuff has always been good. He has great stuff, but once he starts locating the way he has now, he becomes very, very difficult to hit.
"There's part of that where you get a lot of guys that strike people out, they're always going for the strikeout," Ventura said. "There is a longevity thing in the season that when you start not using as many pitches and still get the same results as far as outs and winning a game, something clicks. That's when you start growing up a little bit, when you figure out how to win games and how to save yourself somewhat to be able to do that. He's done that a little bit since he's come back."
Matt Shoemaker gets the tough challenge of pitching opposite a starter who doesn't give up much, especially when factoring in Sale's career 3-0 record with a 0.36 ERA against the Angels. But Shoemaker has grown accustomed to these sorts of challenges.
He has started and won games when Cliff Lee was pitching for Philadelphia and David Price was pitching for Tampa Bay. Shoemaker holds right-handed hitters to a .159 average, and has a 2.35 ERA at home in '14. Shoemaker hasn't started since May 29, when he defeated the Mariners and struck out six over 5 1/3 innings, working once in relief in the interim.
"It doesn't change my approach at all," said Shoemaker of going against Sale. "I try to take each day at a time so when I'm out there pitching, it's like, 'Hey man, be aggressive, execute you pitches,' no matter who's on the other side of it.
"All I'm doing as a pitcher is going after their hitters. That's my focus. It doesn't really change my focus at all because I always want to focus on those same key points."
White Sox: Flowers gets a rest
Adrian Nieto had only started with John Danks this season where the White Sox rotation is concerned. But Ventura put Tyler Flowers behind the plate with Danks on Wednesday, and had Nieto call the game for Andre Rienzo on Friday.
Nieto would figure to get a little more playing time as the weather gets warmer, but Ventura is not moving away from Flowers as his regular starter behind the plate.
"Flow has done a good job of keeping himself physically fit to do it and calls a good game. He has done a very good job this year," Ventura said. "It will eventually get there as the season goes along that you'll see Adrian get a little more here and there.
"With [Jered] Weaver going [Friday], it also makes sense. You can give Flo two days. Jered, I don't think that's fun for any right-handed hitter, so the mental break's pretty good, too."
Angels: Halos finding success against lefties
With Sale's start Saturday, the Angels are set to face left-handed starters in four of their next five games. White Sox lefty Jose Quintana will finish the three-game series Sunday.
Los Angeles has 13 wins against left-handed starters, tied with Boston for second in the American League, and three Angels (with more than 10 at-bats) hit at least .300 against southpaws. As a team, the Angels hit .262 against lefties, 13 points higher than versus right-handers.
C.J. Cron (.282 against lefties) and Grant Green (.429) have been mostly playing against lefties and the string of left-handers may mean fewer at-bats for Raul Ibanez (1-for-26, .038).
• Since April 21, Erick Aybar is hitting .319, first among Major League shortstops. He has a hit in 20 of the last 25 games and already has 34 RBIs, 25 shy of his career high.
• Before Friday's 8-4 Angels victory, the White Sox and Angels had 351 wins against each other in the all-time series.
• Adam Dunn hit his 450th career home run on Friday night, launching a two-run shot off of Angels reliever Ernesto Frieri.