Red Sox lefthander Chris Sale will make his next rehab start — the fourth in his comeback from 2020 Tommy John surgery — Saturday in Worcester. It won’t be his last appearance in the minors this year.
“He won’t be with us after that one,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora Monday before the Red Sox’ 5-4 comeback win over the Blue Jays at Fenway Park.
That reflects the Red Sox’ determination to build up Sale gradually and not any issue with his performance or recovery.
Sale threw 64 pitches over 3⅔ innings Sunday with Double A Portland, allowing two runs on six hits while striking out nine. He showed mid-90s velocity to anchor his three-pitch mix, and when he showed up at Fenway Park Monday, he had bounced back well physically from the outing.
“He feels great,” said Cora. “He’s been able to repeat his delivery. He loves the fact that his fastball command is there, the velocity is there. So everything is trending the right way.
“He’ll pitch Saturday and we’ll go from there. But everything today went well. That’s good news.”
The Sox have wanted to make sure that Sale returns at full health and not while he’s still building his workload. As such, they appear determined to have him make at least two more rehab appearances, which would make his earliest return date somewhere in the second week of August, perhaps during a series at Fenway against the Rays from Aug. 10-12.
Hernández a leading man
Kiké Hernández was named American League Player of the Week for July 19-25, a stretch in which he went 10 for 25 with three homers, eight extra-base hits, and a .400/.448/1.000 line while helping the Sox to a 5-1 record.
Yet the uptick in Hernández’s performance predates the last week. In 23 games since his return to the leadoff spot on June 27, he’s hitting .295/.406/.682 with eight homers, 17 extra-base hits, and a 1.087 OPS.
“This is kind of what I envisioned myself doing when [Cora] challenged me in the offseason to be the leadoff guy,” said Hernández. “Obviously I didn’t get off to the greatest of starts, but that’s the thing about baseball. With the long season, you get time to make up for it. Now I’m trying to make this stretch last as long as possible.”
Hernández went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts Monday night.
Hernández has come to love his role as a source of instant offense for the Sox in the first inning. He’s delivered nine extra-base hits when leading off the first inning over the 23 games since his return to that lineup spot.
“I like it — especially seeing how energetic this crowd is,” said Hernández. “I’m one of those energy guys on the team. Whenever I can get a stadium going, it’s a pretty good feeling. I’ve been able to do that the last few weeks.”
While Jarren Duran is still looking to find his offensive rhythm (.154/.214/.308 with 10 strikeouts in 28 plate appearances), it’s taken no time to see his game-changing speed. Whether the run he scored from first on a double Friday night or the burst that allowed him to fly into second after Yankees second baseman Rougned Odor mishandled his grounder Saturday, Duran has displayed an unusual gear on the bases — one to which his coaches have to adjust.
“He’s different than the other guys. He’ll get to me quicker than the other guys,” said Sox third base coach Carlos Febles. “He’s special. He’s got great speed. The guys like that make the coaches’ lives easier or tougher. You feel like they can score anytime.”
Febles said Duran is such a powerful runner that he forces coaches to make early decisions about whether to send or hold him, since it’s almost impossible for the 24-year-old to decelerate if he’s moving at top speed coming around third base.
“It’s fascinating. He puts you on your toes,” said Febles. “I love the fact that we finally have somebody who can do that. That puts pressure on the defense. That makes them have to play faster. He’ll force a lot of errors.”
Sawamura ready for rehab?
Hirokazu Sawamura, who was placed on the injured list last week with right triceps inflammation, threw on the field at Fenway. He could start a rehab assignment with Triple A Worcester as soon as Tuesday. He’s eligible to come off the injured list Friday. “He should be with us sooner rather than later,” said Cora … Xander Bogaerts, amidst a 3-for-23 slump (.130/.154/.130), received what Cora described as a routine day off. The slump started after the New York series in which Bogaerts experienced slight discomfort in his wrist. Cora said Rafael Devers and Christian Vázquez are also slated to get rest during the Blue Jays series … As part of Disability Awareness Night, pregame ceremonies recognized local Paralympics and Special Olympics athletics, including three local athletes — Cailin Currie (Salem), Noelle Lambert (Manchester, N.H.), and Femita Ayanbeku (Randolph) — who will compete in the International Paralympic Games in Tokyo beginning Aug. 24.
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.