CLEVELAND -- Erik Johnson returned to the mound Friday night for Triple-A Charlotte against Buffalo, hoping to work his way back to the White Sox in the not-too-distant future. He certainly made a strong first impression, throwing six scoreless innings, striking out six and most importantly, walking just one.
The right-handed rookie was being counted on as a significant part of the 2014 rotation, but was optioned to Charlotte after his start on April 25 against the Rays. Johnson allowed four runs over 1 2/3 innings against Tampa Bay, and has walked 15 in 23 2/3 innings while striking out 18 for the White Sox.
"Just compete and be consistent," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura on what he wants to see from Johnson. "Even coming up last year, I think he was just better at being aggressive in the zone and controlling that, and that's part of being up here. You have to be able to do that to succeed."
Mound issues for Johnson might be as much a crisis of confidence as being short with his raw stuff.
"Young guys probably have that. It's more of an issue for younger guys than it is for older guys," Ventura said. "Everybody runs into a period where they don't feel quite as sharp in throwing strikes and commanding things. But he is a competitor and he'll get there.
"He's serious. He's very committed to what he's doing. It is a job. That's just part of his personality and also part of what makes him good, too."
Sale on path to return, but Sox being cautious
CLEVELAND -- Chris Sale played long toss on Friday before the series opener against the Indians at Progressive Field, and he is on target to throw a light bullpen session on Monday.
But there's no timetable for the left-handed ace's return. Sale was placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 18 with a flexor muscle strain in his left arm and is eligible to return from the DL this weekend.
The slow and steady path the Sox followed during Sale's recovery should not be taken as a red flag that something more serious is wrong, according to manager Robin Ventura.
"No. I think he's fine," said Ventura of Sale. "Time is going to be the major thing for him. As far as him being out for the year or anything like that, I have no doubt that's not going to happen.
"I don't know if it's bouncing back. But you're cautious about it, because he's cautious about it. He knows how he feels, and it's probably a couple days behind of what's happened the previous two times of him going through the same thing.
"If it was two weeks more, there would be more concerns," Ventura said. "But a couple more days here and there, and you're erring on the side of caution. You're allowing him a couple more days to do that."
Sale, who has a 3-0 record, a 2.30 ERA and 29 strikeouts over 27 1/3 innings, has chosen to reserve comment on the situation until he's throwing off the mound. As Ventura mentioned, he's gone through the soreness-related shutdowns before, with a similar problem in '12 temporarily moving him to the bullpen, so the White Sox are taking their cues, on some level, from their pitcher.
"He knows what it feels like, so he goes and throws and he knows what he's been through before. It's more of his comfort level of pushing it at that point," Ventura said. "I don't see any kind of a difference in him as far as body language or anything like that. He throws and he can tell what it feels like. He feels it's getting better, but in not pushing it once we are at this point, you are just making sure he's feeling really good once he goes back out there."
Abreu grateful for praise, taking success in stride
CLEVELAND -- With his Major League rookie records of 10 homers and 32 RBIs through April, Jose Abreu has the chance to be named AL Rookie of the Month and Player of the Month. He would join former teammate Yasiel Puig (June '13) , the only player to be named Player of the Month in his first month in the Majors.
But winning such an honor was not a target for Abreu when he arrived with the White Sox.
"Overall, and this first month included, I never thought of any numbers or any goals," said Abreu through interpreter and White Sox director of public relations Lou Hernandez. "Just doing exactly what the team needs me to do for the team to be successful.
"The success that I've had, I try to take it in stride. I haven't put goals on myself."
Abreu does appreciate the early notice he has received across the country, showing his hard work and set routine have paid off.
"That's beautiful," Abreu said. "All I can say is be thankful to the people who have said those things about me. It really is a source of pride to hear so many people admire some of the things I've done. I also just want to focus on helping the team win and be focused on the job at hand."
Keppinger beginning rehab assignment
CLEVELAND -- A rehab assignment for Jeff Keppinger began Friday night with Double-A Birmingham against Mobile. The veteran infielder has been on the disabled list since March 21 in his continued recovery from right shoulder surgery and has been at extended Spring Training since the team broke camp.
Keppinger's rehab will be much like that of Gordon Beckham, in that he will continue on until he can put together a string of consecutive, pain-free full games.
"I know that even when [Keppinger] was in Arizona, he was playing games, and some of them, he wouldn't make it through all of it," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "You are trying to make sure you get that consistent playing time at Double-A. You are letting him play down there and doing it over and over again, so he's in shape to be up here."
Felipe Paulino (right rotator cuff inflammation) is scheduled to make a rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte on Saturday, looking for greater effectiveness as much as full health. Third baseman Conor Gillaspie swung the bat Friday to test his previously sore left hand that landed him on the disabled list, and Ventura mentioned that Gillaspie could go on a brief rehab assignment of his own at the start of next week.
"You move that piece out there, solid contact, the balance that goes deeper in the lineup than basically we have right now," said Ventura of Gillaspie. "You miss having that piece and you want him back."
Third to first
• Ventura wouldn't commit to a Tuesday starter at Wrigley Field until the White Sox got through the weekend, but he was leaning toward Hector Noesi.
• Alexei Ramirez needs two games to tie Buck Weaver for fifth-most games at shortstop in franchise history at 823. He needs one hit to reach 1,000 for his career, after he went 2-for-4 in Friday's 12-5 loss to the Indians.
• The White Sox rank second in the American League with a .286 average with runners in scoring position, including a .308 mark over their last 12 games.
• Tommy Hanson walked five and struck out one over 4 1/3 innings Thursday night during Charlotte's 6-1 loss to Buffalo. Hanson has allowed seven runs on nine hits and has walked 11 over 13 1/3 innings since joining the Knights.