CLEVELAND -- The White Sox don't have Mark Buehrle as part of their starting rotation, a steady force both on and off the field whose presence will be missed.
They also don't have Chris Sale at the back of their bullpen, a hard-throwing southpaw with electric stuff to close out victories.
But judging by the upbeat, team-wide attitude following Monday's 4-2 victory over the Indians at Progressive Field, they are dealing just fine with the changes in place.
Sale, that former reliever with 79 career relief appearances, completed the transformation to Sale, the frontline starter, by allowing just three hits over 6 2/3 scoreless innings. Although the change wasn't wildly popular across the board originally, the 23-year-old showed he has the makings of an ace hurler in Buehrle's spot.
He worked in perfect sync with catcher A.J. Pierzynski, locating fastballs in the mid-90s and his sharp-breaking slider and even mixing in a few changeups. When Sale exited at exactly 100 pitches, more than double his previous career-high pitch count, he still felt fresh and ready to go.
"I felt great," said Sale, who threw 60 of his 100 pitches for strikes. "I felt strong the entire time."
"Stuff-wise, that's not really the issue," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of Sale, who fanned five and walked two. "People are [wondering] if he can hold up. And we probably could have left him in there. What we got in the bullpen, we felt comfortable just bringing him out after the first start of the year."
Victory support for Sale came via the first-inning long ball against Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin, accounting for three runs. Alejandro De Aza went deep on a 2-1 count for his first career leadoff homer and the club's first since Scott Podsednik in Detroit on Oct. 2, 2009.
Paul Konerko reached two outs later on an infield single that barely eluded shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, and Pierzynski launched his first homer of the year on a 2-0 pitch. The White Sox (2-2) added a run in the fifth against Tomlin, with Brent Morel picking up his first hit of the year and singling home De Aza, who had reached base on a two-out double.
As important as Pierzynski's blast was to set the tone early, his pitch calling steadied Sale's nerves and was a focal point in the southpaw's reasons for success.
"Whatever fingers he puts down, that's the pitch I throw," said a clearly satisfied Sale. "I didn't shake off once. I know he knows this lineup and has been doing this for a while."
"If he throws his stuff over the plate, he's got as good of stuff as anybody," Pierzynski said. "Inside, outside, slider, changeup. Just a matter of him getting to harness it, and he's still young. People don't understand he's pretty darn young in terms of the baseball world."
Addison Reed and Matt Thornton covered 1 1/3 innings of near-perfect setup work following Sale, giving way to the closer to be named later, Hector Santiago. Jose Lopez's leadoff homer in the ninth ended the bullpen's scoreless streak at 8 2/3 innings, but Santiago immediately got back to work and struck out Jason Kipnis and Aaron Cunningham to pick up his second save in two opportunities.
That cool resolve shown by a 24-year-old stands as one of the numerous reasons leading to Santiago getting this opportunity to close. He's no Sale or Sergio Santos, who is battling through ninth-inning struggles with Toronto, but his first bout with adversity backed up Ventura's decision.
"You'd hate to say you'd like to see it happen, but at least it's something that the first time it happens doesn't happen in a one-run game," said Ventura of Santiago. "He's going to give up a run here and there, but the object of what he's doing is to keep them from tying it back up."
"Really, I kind of shook it off," said Santiago of the Lopez homer. "I was like, 'Yeah, I have to go back and finish the game.'"
Five of the South Siders' 10 runs this season have scored via the long ball, and the team slipped to 3-for-27 hitting with runners in scoring position following Monday's 1-for-8 showing. But Ventura isn't ready to label this offense as relying on the home run so early in the campaign.
One start also does not an ace make. Sale isn't near Buehrle's level, and Santiago wouldn't yet qualify as an elite late-inning finisher. They both appear to be headed in the right direction, leading the franchise's youthful charge.
"Regardless of whether he pitches out of the 'pen or he starts, if he's healthy, and he throws the ball around the plate, he's going to be tough on a lot of people," said Cleveland manager Manny Acta of Sale. "He's got a very deceptive delivery -- a low slot. He can run it up there in the mid-90s with sink and he's got a pretty good slider and a decent changeup. He is what he is. That's why he was drafted No. 1."
"Those guys have the talent to be pretty good," said Pierzynski of the young White Sox pitchers. "Santiago, Reed, [Nate] Jones, they have the opportunity to be big leaguers for a long time. They know that and they are being given the opportunity, which is awesome."