Chris Sale was the center of attention at a near-empty Fenway Park on Friday afternoon, taking the mound four hours before the Red Sox played the Toronto Blue Jays.
With 15 teammates fanned out behind him on the infield watching closely, Sale threw 30 pitches to catcher Kevin Plawecki at what appeared to be close to full effort.
Sale hadn’t pitched off that mound since Aug. 8, 2019. He fired eight shutout innings against the Los Angeles Angels that night, striking out 13 without a walk.
Sale felt elbow pain after his next start and hasn’t pitched in a game since as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Friday was another step closer.
“We need to try not to get too excited. He was that good,” manager Alex Cora said. “Just the energy and the quality of the pitches, the tempo. He looked really good, really good.
“He said that that’s the best he’s felt throughout the process. Having his peers around him means a lot to him. I think pitching on that mound means a lot.”
Part of the reason Sale pitched off the mound was so the Sox could use pitch-tracking technology to gauge his pitches. But there was a psychological component, too.
“Being on a big-league mound and being a big-league player, that means a lot to him. He doesn’t take that for granted,” Cora said. “It was a really good one, a really good one.”
The Sox have steadfastly declined to discuss a timetable for Sale. But his progress in recent days suggests he will soon be ready for a minor league rehabilitation assignment and a return to the majors in late July or early August.
All or nothing for Renfroe
Hunter Renfroe only knows one way to go: 100 percent at all times.
There’s some reckless abandonment that comes with it. He runs at full speed in the outfield. He will run into a wall, unleash a rifle from right field to cut down a runner at home. He might overthrow a cutoff man.
“During the game, it’s 100 percent no matter what,” Renfroe said before the Red Sox’ 6-5 walkoff win Friday night over the visiting Blue Jays. “Whatever the outcome is, I try to go out there and give it everything I got, no matter what.”
Renfroe, who went 1 for 4 with an RBI Friday, says he will tone it down to 80 percent in practice, just to get a feel and take some of those mental reps. He will work on angles, see how the ball is carrying at his positions in right, and hone his first-step quickness. But when it’s game time, he quickly ramps it back up. It’s part of why Renfroe came into the weekend ranked second in outfield assists (7).
He’s ramped up at the plate, too. Since the start of May, Renfroe had hit .299/.336/.520 with six homers, going into the weekend.
“People call them gamers,” Renfroe said. “I go out there with the intent of doing damage and do what I can at the plate and run to first base full speed.”
The “gamer” is usually a label that’s aligned with the player who perhaps lacks athleticism. Renfroe, though, is a muscular 6-foot-1-inch, 230 pounds, with above-average speed and power, in addition to a plus arm.
Toronto’s George Springer, who’s currently on the injured list with a right quad strain, knows a thing or two about being a gamer. He’s 6-3, 221 pounds, and, when healthy, plays with that same passion and full-throttle approach that has helped turn him into a three-time All-Star.
“It’s just how I know how to play, it’s the only way I’ve ever played,” Springer said. " I don’t know any other way to play besides full throttle. When the ball’s hit my direction. I’m going to run as fast as I can up until I can’t. That’s my game. I’ve embraced it.”
The Red Sox have embraced Renfroe, too.
“We got a right fielder,” Cora said. “He’s been pretty solid.”
Bogaerts on bench
Xander Bogaerts (left knee soreness) was a late scratch Friday. He banged his knee on the ground on an Alex Bregman single Thursday against the Astros. Bogaerts will have Saturday off but the team hopes to have him back in the lineup Sunday. Bogaerts entered Friday leading all American League shortstops in batting average (.324), on-base percentage (.382), slugging (.547), OPS (.929), doubles (17), extra-base hits (28), and RBIs (38). His 11 homers were tied for first. Marwin Gonzalez started in Bogaerts’s place in the field, but batted in the No. 8 hole. He went 0 for 3, but brought home a run with a bases-loaded walk . . . Toronto second baseman Cavan Biggio was activated from the 10-day injured list. To make room, the Blue Jays optioned second baseman Santiago Espinal.
(Julian McWilliams of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.)