MINNEAPOLIS — Esmerling Vasquez's audition for the Minnesota rotation has been a wild one.
Watching Chris Sale would be a good way to learn how to find the strike zone.
Sale threw six scoreless innings to notch his 17th victory after being rained out the night before, helping the Chicago White Sox keep their one-game AL Central lead by beating the Twins 6-0 on Friday.
Sale (17-6) allowed three singles and struck out five without a walk, cruising to his third win in three starts against the Twins this year, with just two runs allowed over 20 innings.
"I don't have to face him," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, "but I look from the side and I'm watching the ball dart and dive all over the place."
Sale was supposed to pitch on Thursday at home against Detroit, but the last matchup of the season between the two division front-runners was postponed until Monday by the wet weather. The Tigers, who beat Cleveland 4-0, are one game back in the race.
Vasquez (0-2) gave the Twins the best of his three starts since he was brought up from Triple-A Rochester at the beginning of the month, but he was done in again by control problems. He walked three straight batters in the fourth inning after a one-out single, with Dayan Viciedo's walk forcing in the second run for Chicago.
"I know I throw too many pitches," Vasquez said.
Then with two outs in the sixth, after a broken-bat single by A.J. Pierzynski and a walk to Viciedo, Kyle Waldrop relieved Vasquez. Alexei Ramirez greeted him with a single to make it 3-0.
Vasquez had 80 walks over 137 innings, all in relief, for Arizona over the past three seasons. The Twins claimed him on waivers last September. The 28-year-old Dominican needed 113 pitches to make it 5 2-3 innings. He walked five and struck out four, with three hits and three runs allowed.
"He's got good stuff. He threw some good pitches to me. I didn't really get a lot of good swings off them," Pierzynski said. "I'm sure they're telling him this all the time: If he cuts down on his walks, he's doing pretty good. But you can see it. You can see why he's here. You can why he's starting. And the guy has potential."
Vasquez said he was more confident in his pitches than he was in his past two turns. And the Twins were too.
"That was way better than last time," Gardenhire said. "Improvement's what we're looking for. He took a step up there and got us deeper in the game."
Viciedo had two RBIs, Kevin Youkilis homered and Alex Rios doubled, scored and drove in a run for the White Sox, who played without injured slugger Adam Dunn for the seventh straight game. Dunn, who has a strained right oblique muscle, could return to the lineup on Saturday.
The White Sox improved to 12-4 against the Twins this year. But they're just 5-12 against the Tigers, with losses in nine of the past 10 meetings.
Both teams have fallen well behind in the AL wild-card standings, leaving the division title their only real opportunity to play in the postseason.
With 19 games remaining, the White Sox play legitimate contenders only eight more times including the pivotal makeup game on Monday. They can't afford to slip up against faded foes such as the Twins, who are jostling with the Indians for fourth place.
Sale made sure they didn't, letting only two runners reach second base. Youkilis helped him out at third base with consecutive catches of hard line drives, going down on the ground to his right to snag Jamey Carroll's and then gloving Josh Willingham's on the next play. Sale, whose transition from reliever to starter this year has been a rousing success, lowered his ERA to 2.78. He's third in the AL in ERA and tied for second in wins.
NOTES: LHP Francisco Liriano (5-11, 5.37 ERA) will pitch on Saturday against his former team so the White Sox can give starters Jose Quintana and Gavin Floyd extra rest. Liriano has been bouncing back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. RHP Samuel Deduno (6-3, 3.55 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound for the Twins, coming off a strong start on Monday when he beat the Indians with seven innings, six strikeouts and three hits, two runs and three walks allowed. ... Joe Mauer missed his fourth straight game due to back spasms, but the Twins said he's feeling better. With Ryan Doumit also day to day with a strained rib cage, Chris Herrmann was called up from Double-A New Britain to be the emergency catcher. ... White Sox manager Robin Ventura said when Dunn returns Dewayne Wise will be in the mix with Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza for time in LF and CF.
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