Chris Sale had no excuses or alibis. His return to the Chicago White Sox's rotation got off to a wild start in the first inning and after running up a high pitch count, the 23-year-old lefty managed to go five innings in a 5-0 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
Sale (3-2) walked the first two batters he faced and the Royals sent nine batters to the plate in a three-run first inning, all the support that K.C. starter Luke Hochevar needed.
"The first inning was terrible as far as command," Sale said. "I didn't have any of my offspeed stuff working, kind of just throwing the ball all over the place."
Sale said a 56-minute rain delay before the game was no big deal and that he felt fine despite the length of time between starts.
He'd convinced general manager Kenny Williams that his sore elbow was OK — an MRI showed no damage — and insisted he wanted to go back in the rotation and not be a reliever as he was in his first two seasons. He made one brief relief appearance between his last start May 1 and Saturday night.
"My arm felt great, my body felt good, my mind was right," Sale said. "I just didn't put it all together."
Sale's first seven pitches were balls and after the two walks, he gave up a single to Alex Gordon that loaded the bases. Billy Butler then drove a ball into the right field corner, but when baserunner Johnny Giavotella didn't get a good break off second, just one run scored and the bases remained full.
When Jeff Francoeur grounded to White Sox's second baseman Gordon Beckham on a perfect double-play ball, Beckham touched second and threw wildly past first for an error and two runs scored for the Royals. An infield single by Eric Hosmer and bloop single by Irvin Falu reloaded the bases before Sale escaped after throwing 42 pitches in the opening inning.
"I don't know that we got to him, but his command was off and we did a good job of getting his pitch count up, scoring three in the first," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
"Then he settled in, and he did a pretty darn good job of getting through five innings after that first inning."
After his shaky start, Sale retired nine straight at one point. He gave up seven hits and the three runs during his 103-pitch outing with two walks and three strikeouts.
"I was mentally and physically prepared for this start, just like any other. It just wasn't there tonight," said Sale, who shrugged off all the hoopla surrounding the White Sox's decision to move him to the bullpen and then put him back as a starter following a big meeting of front office, coaches and medical staff Friday.
"The way they were throwing the ball over there tonight, he (Hochevar) did a great job, I just got outpitched," Sale said.
Hochevar (3-3) allowed three hits in seven innings. In his previous starts against the Tigers and Yankees, he'd given up a total of 19 hits and 16 runs in 6 1-3 innings, both losses.
"Obviously my last two (starts) weren't what I wanted, by any means, but sometimes things are tough and you have to keep fighting like crazy," Hochevar said. "Regardless of my situation, I've got one job to do, and that's get outs."
Hochevar cruised. The White Sox mustered only one real scoring threat against him all night. That came in the second on a walk and single by Alex Rios before Alexei Ramirez hit into a double play.
Hochevar walked one and struck out five. Greg Holland pitched the eighth and Aaron Crow walked two in the ninth before completing the shutout.
Alcides Escobar delivered a two-out RBI double in the eighth for Kansas City and scored on a single by Humberto Quintero.
Notes: The teams reversed scores from Friday night's opener when the White Sox won 5-0. ... Royals reinstated right-handed reliever Greg Holland (rib cage) from the 15-day disabled list and optioned right-hander Nate Adcock to Triple-A Omaha. K.C. also signed veteran left-hander Doug Davis to a minor league deal. ... Chicago 3B Brent Morel, bothered by disc problem in his back, returned to the lineup after missing two games.