April weather in Chicago is usually cold enough to leave hitters uncomfortable, and this week has been no exception. The White Sox got rained out on Tuesday and played a game in 40-degree temperatures on Wednesday -- foreboding signs for the Tampa Bay Rays, who will come to U.S. Cellular Field for the opener of a four-game series on Thursday night.
Tampa Bay, of course, plays its home games in a dome, which sometimes leaves the Rays unaccustomed to the elements. But the recent weather has been cold enough to bother even the White Sox. Temperatures are expected to drop into the 30s on Thursday night, and Chicago will match southpaw Chris Sale against Tampa Bay's Jeremy Hellickson in the opener.
"It makes guys a little stiffer," said Chicago manager Robin Ventura of the weather. "We have some guys who are a little older. You maybe want to get them off the field and not have them out there that long. The younger guys handle it a little better."
Both Sale and Hellickson fit that description, which could set the scene for a classic pitchers' duel. Sale has completed seven innings and allowed three earned runs or fewer in three of his four starts this season, but he has only one win to show for it. The southpaw threw 7 2/3 shutout innings in a 1-0 win over Kansas City on Opening Day.
The White Sox were careful with Sale last year in his transition from the bullpen to the rotation, and he topped out at a career-best 192 innings. The 24-year-old got that season under his belt and trained to maintain his endurance during the winter, and he said he's felt good this season despite allowing a career-high eight earned runs in a start two weeks ago.
"So far, so good," Sale said. "I'm just following the plans that I have here -- in the weight room and in the training room. I'm maybe doing a few different things ... but my last four starts, I've felt good. Leading up to this one, I feel like I'm right on track."
Hellickson has worked seven innings and allowed just three hits in each of his last two starts, and the Rays have allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of their last five victories. Tampa Bay is coming off a winning homestand that could give the club some much-needed momentum, and manager Joe Maddon knows the White Sox are a stern challenge.
"If we swing the bats better and continue to pitch like this, of course we're going to have a better road trip," said Maddon, whose team is 2-7 on the road so far this season. "The White Sox, I don't think are off to a good start, but they're good."
Rays: Hellickson keeping it simple
Hellickson was one of Tampa Bay's most consistent pitchers last season, and he got off to a bad start this year by allowing five earned runs in his season debut. The right-hander took the loss in his second start, but he's been much more consistent the last two outings, and Maddon thinks that's just part of the learning curve for the 26-year-old.
"I think he simplified things," said Maddon. "He throws his fastball for strikes, down in the strike zone. It doesn't matter whether it's in or out, just as long as it's down. And off that, he throws one of the best changeups in the American League, and then here comes his curveball. So I think more than anything, he's throwing his fastball down for strikes right now."
White Sox: Rios finding a rhythm
Alex Rios turned around his first slump of the season with a big swing of the bat on Wednesday. Chicago's center fielder, who started off his season with a 10-game hitting streak, came into Wednesday's series finale against Cleveland on an 0-for-11 skid, and then he hit into a double play and grounded out to third base in his first two at-bats of the day.
Rios, who has now hit safely in 16 of his 20 games this season, reversed his slump and the tone of Wednesday's game with a two-run home run to deep left field in the fifth inning. The veteran's six April homers tie his career best, and he homered in four straight games earlier this month. Rios needs seven doubles for 300 in his career and 12 stolen bases to reach 200.
• Designated hitter Adam Dunn walked three times on Wednesday, but he went 0-for-1 at the plate and is batting .043 (2-for-46) in his last 11 games.
• The White Sox have had two games postponed during this 10-game homestand.
• Eighteen of 20 games this season for Chicago have been decided by three runs or fewer.
• The Rays notched their fifth shutout of the season on Wednesday night.
• Tampa Bay will visit Kansas City and Colorado after the series in Chicago.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.