CHICAGO -– It's a good thing manager Robin Ventura, pitching coach Don Cooper, general manager Rick Hahn and the rest of their respective staffs will be picking the 2013 White Sox Opening Day starter.
If the decision was left to Jake Peavy and Chris Sale, the debate might linger right up until the first pitch at U.S. Cellular Field on April 1 against the Royals.
"Without a doubt, Jake. Without a doubt," said Sale, speaking of his choice for No. 1 starter during this weekend's SoxFest festivities at the Palmer House Hilton. "You kind of look back on his career and what he's done and look back at last year what he did, not only on the field, but off the field. I look at him as a leader and as kind of a role model for everybody on our pitching staff to look up to."
"I can tell you right now who is going to start Opening Day and that's Chris Sale," Peavy countered in this SoxFest chapter of their mutual admiration society. "Chris Sale is the best starter on this team. Your best starter throws Opening Day. It's special and Chris Sale is the most talented guy on our staff. I hope no other guy on our staff takes offense to that. It is what it is."
Peavy has become a mentor to Sale over the three years they have pitched together. That bond grew stronger in 2012, when the right-handed Peavy bounced back to his previous frontline starter status and Sale proved Cy Young worthy in his first year as a member of the rotation.
When Sale suffered elbow tenderness that temporarily moved him to the bullpen on May 4, Peavy was one of the veterans encouraging one of the game's top young pitching talents not to be a hero when working with pain. Peavy also pushed Sale to take those extra steps to protect the investment that is his left pitching arm while he's young.
There has been too much familiarity with injury for Peavy during parts of four years with the White Sox. But after having his lat muscle reattached during 2010 surgery, Peavy posted an 11-12 record with a 3.32 ERA over 32 starts and 219 innings last season. He struck out 194 and walked 49, leading to a two-year, $29 million extension from the White Sox.
Four complete games and one shutout stood out among Peavy's efforts. What caught Sale's attention is the way Peavy handled adversity, losing four straight starts from June 13-June 30, while compiling a 2.70 ERA with two complete games. Peavy dropped 1-0 decisions to Boston on April 28 at home and to the Cardinals in St. Louis on June 13.
"Seeing how he handled that, he didn't point any fingers," said Sale of Peavy. "He didn't blame anybody. He knows that's how it goes sometimes. Seeing someone who puts so much hard work and time and effort into each individual start and to go out there and honestly be great and deal with a loss, he was nothing but professional about it.
"You learn a lot of stuff when people are really great and at the top of the game. But when things don't go their way, you figure out who they are. That was fun to see from him. He's the same guy. He's positive and just kept the ball going, that's his thing.
"Go nine innings, throw a shutout and win a game. Go nine innings, give up one run and lose a game," Sale said. "He has the same mentality. You definitely learn a lot watching what he does and how he prepares before and after."
An equal amount of plaudits come from Peavy for the 23-year-old Sale. In surveying Sale's 17-8 record with a 3.05 ERA (2.30 at home), including an 11-3 record following a White Sox loss that tied him with Cole Hamels for baseball best record in that category, Peavy spoke of the maturity that goes along with the high level of ability.
"A lot of people -- and I do at certain times -- lose fact of how young he is because of how well he carries himself. Just how well-mannered he is and how well he gets it," said Peavy, pointing out how young fatherhood played well in Chris' life, as it did for him. "Chris is a class act and he's going to be someone Chicago will be proud of for a long time.
"I'm certainly going to try to complement him in every which way I can, as is John [Danks] and Gavin [Floyd]," Peavy added.
So, who should start Opening Day, following the last of Mark Buehrle's franchise-record nine starts for the 2011 opener and Danks' first one in 2012? Sale, also in line for his Opening Day debut, won't budge from Peavy, while Peavy, who would be making his fifth overall and first with the White Sox, makes no apologies in thinking Sale is the definitive answer.
Ultimately, the decision for this honor will be made by people above Sale and Peavy's pay grade. Whether it's Sale/Peavy or Peavy/Sale, one agreement can be reached by everyone associated with the White Sox. The organization is thrilled to have this duo at the top of its rotation.
"I'll put our 1-2 up with anybody. I put our 1-through-5 or 1-through-7 up against anybody," Danks said. "We have two true aces at the top and you can't go wrong. Who they go with, I don't know. But whatever order it is, it doesn't matter. We have our two best guys going 1-2."