Chris Sale took the Fenway Park mound at 11 a.m. Thursday with a big crowd on hand.
Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero, pitching coach Dave Bush, game-planning coordinator Jason Varitek, and bench coach Will Venable were among those watching behind a screen in back of home plate.
Manager Alex Cora, general manager Brian O’Halloran, and vice president of baseball operations Ben Crockett took seats in the stands.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom stood in the aisle behind the field box seats.
Some of Sale’s fellow pitchers watched from the grass behind second base. Rafael Devers and third base coach Carlos Febles sat behind the dugout.
They liked what they saw. Sale threw 32 pitches, 16 for strikes, over two innings to Kiké Hernández, Rob Refsnyder, and Triple A infielder Grant Williams. Unofficially: Two strikeouts, a walk, two ground outs, and a fly ball.
“Good, really good,” Cora said. “94-95 [miles per hour]. Good changeup.”
The last part is important. Sale was primarily a fastball/slider pitcher last season and never gained command of his changeup. Having it back in his repertoire would make a significant difference.
“This will play,” Cora said. “That was a lot better than last year.”
Cora thought it was likely that Sale would pitch another simulated game next week before starting a minor league assignment.
“We know he’s going to contribute,” Cora said.
Friday night will be special for Michael Wacha.
The Red Sox righthander is the scheduled starter against the St. Louis Cardinals, the organization he was with from 2012-19.
Wacha will be facing St. Louis for the first time and going up against Cardinals legend Adam Wainwright, his rotation mate for seven seasons.
“I’ve said what a good influence he was on me when I was younger,” Wacha said. “It’ll be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to it.”
The Cardinals are the only team Wacha hasn’t pitched against in his career.
“That’s kind of a cool thing, getting to play at least one game against everybody,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate in my career to do the things I’ve done.”
Wainwright’s only appearance at Fenway Park was in Game 1 of the 2013 World Series. He took the loss, allowing three earned runs in five innings.
Cora is looking forward to the weekend, too. He has great regard for Wainwright, Yadier Molina, and Albert Pujols. All three are likely to retire after the season.
“When Albert was Albert — The Machine — he was the best of the best,” Cora said. “He did everything. In any spot, just to be able to hit the ball the other way and grind at-bats and hit homers and then steal bases. He was great.”
Cora twice played with Molina for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
“The will to win games … relentless,” Cora said.
This weekend will be the first time the Cardinals have been at Fenway since 2017.
The Red Sox have been hit by pitches 11 times in their last 13 games and are getting annoyed about it.
Devers was drilled in his left elbow by A.J. Puk in the seventh inning of Thursday’s 4-3 loss against Oakland. It was the same spot where he got hit by Seattle’s Robbie Ray Sunday.
“We don’t like it,” Cora said. “I’m not going to put the opposition in jeopardy, but it’s been a lot. It’s been happening for a while.”
Cora and a large group of Red Sox players attended Game 6 of the NBA Finals. The Cardinals also had a contingent, as Pujols arranged for a suite at TD Garden … Hernández, who is on the injured list with a sore hip, was not cleared to swing at any of Sale’s pitches. But the expectation is that he will be ready for a brief rehab assignment next week. “He’s feeling a lot better,” Cora said … The Sox finished the season 5-1 against the Athletics and are 19-7 against the AL West … Lefthander Josh Taylor is scheduled for a sim game Sunday as he continues to make progress … Gun control advocates David Hogg, Gabrielle Giffords, and John Rosenthal were introduced before the game, and Giffords threw a first pitch. While a member of Congress, Giffords was shot in the head in 2011 by a man who killed six other people. Hogg is a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida in 2018 that left 17 dead. Rosenthal, a Boston businessman, founded Stop Handgun Violence.