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CWS@HOU: Sale fans six over four innings of work

One year ago, the White Sox pummeled the Indians in an Opening Day clash at a time when Chicago was expected to contend in the American League Central and nobody was quite sure what was in store for Cleveland.

As it turned out, the White Sox would never match the 15-run total they put up at Progressive Field that day, nor would they match any preseason expectations, including their own. As for the Tribe, it quickly became one of the early surprises, storming to the top of the division before sputtering out and finishing in a distant second place, 15 games behind the Tigers.

Now, as the teams prepare to open their divisional slates against each other Monday, both clubs have their sights set on an improved 2012 campaign.

"You realize that you have to make hay when you are playing against your own division," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "But that's always been the recipe, you have to play well in your division if you are going to have a shot. You realize that, but you can't rest everything on it."

For the White Sox, Monday's contest will also mark the first career start for 23-year-old southpaw Chris Sale, who spent the past two seasons in the bullpen. With staff ace Mark Buehrle departing for Miami this offseason, it opened up a spot in the rotation for the club to make its anticipated conversion with Sale.

"As a reliever, you sometimes are coming into situations and it's right there, right now," Sale, who has a 2.58 ERA in 79 career relief appearances, said earlier this spring. "As a starter, it's more length and more focus. You have 100-plus pitches as a starter and you have to stay focused on each pitch. You can throw 50 great ones, but on that 51st first, if you take off, that could be the one that kills you."

Opposing Sale will be Josh Tomlin, the Tribe's starter who perhaps best symbolizes the Indians' up-and-down 2011 campaign.

Tomlin improved to 6-1 with a 2.41 ERA following a May 21 victory last year that also extended Cleveland's division lead to a season-best seven games. From that point on, however, Tomlin went 6-6 the rest of the way and the Indians' lead slowly dwindled until they were overtaken by the eventual champion Tigers.

With his fellow starters recording three straight quality starts to begin the 2012 campaign, Tomlin will look to feed off his teammates as he puts last season behind him. Through three games, Cleveland's starters have allowed just three earned runs off eight hits in 22 innings.

"They've all pitched well enough to keep us in the game every single time and that's our job, to go out there, pitch deep in games and give us a chance to win," Tomlin said. "If we can keep this up all year long, that'd be something we can kind of hang our hats on.

"I'm definitely going to try to go out there and mimic kind of what they're doing. That's all you can do, give it your best and shoot for what they've done."

White Sox: Rios, Dunn deliver big with the bats
Each coming off of dismal seasons, outfielder Alex Rios and designated hitter Adam Dunn both delivered clutch hits in the White Sox opening series against the Rangers.

Though the White Sox bats were shut out Sunday night in Texas, Dunn, who hit .159 last season, crushed an Opening Day homer and Rios (.227 in 2011) followed with a go-ahead ninth-inning homer Saturday in a 4-3 victory over the Rangers.

The big early season hits are certainly a welcomed treat.

"It has been a while since I've hit a ball that good," said Rios, who hit just 13 long balls in 2011. "It felt good."

Indians: Early hitting woes aren't a concern
Hitting coach Bruce Fields wasn't too concerned that the Indians had managed just 12 hits over 28 innings of play in their first two games this season.

And while the club upped its average to just .153 (18-for-118) with Sunday's six hits against the Blue Jays, Fields stressed patience as the Tribe settled into the new season.

"Overall, I've told the guys, I like our at-bats. I like our approaches," Fields said. "They're not chasing a lot out of the strike zone. We're not striking out a lot and that's a great sign. To me, that's a great indicator that we are heading in the right direction. It's just a matter of settling in and settling down, having a little bit more controlled swings."

The Indians' five home runs have accounted for nine of their 12 runs so far this season.

Worth noting
• Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo is 0-for-6 with five strikeouts in his career against Sale.

• The White Sox started 7-1 against the Indians last season before dropping six of the final 10 meetings to finish 11-7 overall.

• Tomlin served up 1.31 homers per nine innings in 2011, marking the fourth-highest total in the American League among qualified pitchers.

• The Indians haven't beaten the White Sox in a season series since going 11-7 against the South Siders in 2007.

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