HOUSTON: White Sox left-hander Chris Sale had two catchers working for him Saturday against the Astros at Minute Maid Park — Alex Avila behind the plate and Dioner Navarro at it.
Avila helped coach Sale through an early rough patch and Navarro drove in four runs in his first game at designated hitter this season to help the Sox grind out a 7-6 victory.
Sale became just the second pitcher in Sox history to reach 14 victories before the All-Star break, along with Wilbur Wood, who did it from 1972-74. The last American League pitcher to reach the mark before the break was David Wells with 15 in 2000. But Sale passed along the credit to his teammates after giving up five runs — four earned — over seven-plus innings.
“I’ll be honest, I probably had the least to do with this win today, which is nice,” Sale said. “You get through a game like this, and it makes you appreciate it a little bit more, having the guys in your corner doing what they did for me.
“Both of my catchers picked me up today.”
The Sox have been short-handed while Melky Cabrera is out with a sprained wrist, forcing usual DH Avisail Garcia into left field. Sox manager Robin Ventura turned to Navarro, who spent time at DH with the Blue Jays and said he loves the role.
Navarro hit a two-run triple off Doug Fister in the second, giving him two triples in one year for the first time since 2007. He added a two-run single in the fifth to drive Fister from the game.
“When we’re behind the plate, we have to catch, we have to deal with the umpire, we have to deal with everybody and then hit,” Navarro said. “When you DH, you have to worry about hitting. It’s a great way to contribute.”
Avila was the only Sox player without a hit, but he walked twice and made his biggest contribution helping Sale work through a tough Astros lineup that scored four runs in the first three innings.
Jose Altuve homered in the first, and the Astros added three runs in the third on Marwin Gonzalez’s squeeze bunt and RBI singles from Altuve and Carlos Correa.
But Sale retired 13 of the next 14 batters he faced and totaled nine strikeouts. He left with two on and no outs in the eighth, but reliever Nate Jones limited the damage to one run. Closer David Robertson picked up his 22nd save.
“It’s my job to know what combinations of pitches are working best for him, what’s going to get the swings and misses or ground balls and quick outs,” Avila said. “He was a little off with his command early, particularly with his fastball, but as the game went on he was able to throw his slider to get swings and misses. That gave him more confidence with the fastball.”
J.B. Shuck homered in the fourth, the 15th consecutive Sox solo homer, tying the 1965 team record. He also had an RBI triple in the eighth.
The victory wasn’t all pretty.
On a single to left field with two outs in the third, Adam Eaton slipped rounding third base but still tried to go home. The throw reached the plate well before Eaton, who tried to hop over catcher Evan Gattis and was out. Eaton also was thrown out at third base for the first out of the fifth.
“The errors I made on the basepaths were tough, but it’s good to have a team that picked me up and put us in the right direction,” Eaton said. “My coaches have taught me better than what I showed.”