SARASOTA, Fla. — Chris Sale had a live arm during his outing against Baltimore Tuesday. He sat at 95-96 miles per hour, touching 97. Still, the Orioles managed to put the bat on the ball with authority.
Sale worked five innings, yielding nine hits (two homers) and six runs (all earned) in a 6-2 loss at Ed Smith Stadium.
“That’s kind of the thing,” Sale said. “Warming up in the bullpen, you see where the stuff is at and you’re like, ‘All right.’ You know, you’re not expecting [what happened]. But it’s how this game goes sometimes. You go out there with your best stuff and get whooped and go out there with basically nothing and find a way.”
In the first inning, Sale tried to beat Adley Rutchsman with an up-and-in fastball, but Rutschman managed to pull his hands in and find the barrel for a homer to left-center. A couple of batters later, Ryan Mountcastle scorched a no-doubter off the batter’s eye in center on a middle-away 3-and-1 fastball.
But both manager Alex Cora and Sale noted that this start marked a positive step for the lefthander, who looked strong throughout, working two scoreless frames to finish up.
“He felt like he could have pitched the sixth inning if he wanted to,” Cora said. “The changeup was playing.”
Sale, however, didn’t have much feel for his slider, which likely played a part in some of the hard contact.
“My slider, my front side is just a little lost right now with that one,” Sale said. “I mean, for the most part, everything was sound, everything felt clean, efficient. Just results weren’t there.”
Sale will make his last Grapefruit League start Sunday against the Twins before facing the Orioles again next week at Fenway Park.
Wong could be ready
Despite Connor Wong’s Grade 1 hamstring strain at the start of camp, there’s a chance he will make the Opening Day roster. Wong has played in just three Grapefruit League contests, but has participated in a good number of minor league games, receiving plenty of at-bats. He also has caught pitchers in live batting practice and bullpens, and ran at full speed Tuesday without any real issue.
“I think at-bats-wise, he’s been fine,” Cora said. “The only thing right now is just running. He’s running a straight line. He hasn’t run the bases yet. Right now, we believe there’s a shot for him to be ready for the end of camp and be ready to play.”
The catching depth entering camp was already thin. Reese McGuire was a sure bet to make the roster while Jorge Alfaro and Wong battled it out for that second spot.
While Alfaro, who is in camp on a minor league deal, has more big league experience than Wong and more power in his bat, he struggles defensively. Wong is the more sure-handed catcher, known for his ability to work well with a pitching staff, which might be of more value to the Sox.
Casas in a jam
Triston Casas was a late scratch Tuesday with a sore left pinkie. He injured it while working out in the weight room Monday, jamming it catching a medicine ball.
“I played the game Monday with some pain,” said Casas, “but I thought with a good night’s rest, it would subside. But I woke up today and it was a little more swollen than it was yesterday. So as a precautionary reason I told [Cora] and his first reaction was to take me out of the lineup.”
Help wanted in bullpen
Lefthanded reliever Joely Rodriguez is optimistic about his progress following his Grade 2 oblique strain. “Today I feel like I can rotate,” he said. “Two days ago, I couldn’t do it.” The reality, however, is that Rodriguez will be out for a while, possibly two months. Then he will have to ramp up. Richard Bleier is now the lone lefthander in the bullpen. How do the Sox replace Rodriguez? Cora said they will meet as a staff Wednesday and throw out a few scenarios. One thing they will consider is whether they want a multi-inning guy or just a lefty. “Obviously the schedule is different early on, especially before Detroit and during the Detroit series and during the first series at home with the off day,” said Cora. “So we’ll talk about it. One thing for sure: We’re not going to rearrange the rotation just to fill that roster spot.”
The Sox won’t rush Brayan Bello or Garrett Whitlock, who are both ramping up following injuries. There’s a chance both could rejoin the rotation early in the season. Cora feels the schedule could save the bullpen from overuse. The Sox have an off day following their home opener against the Orioles and another off day after they play in the Tigers’ home opener. “We’ll decide what we’re going to do in the upcoming days but I think we’re in a good spot as far as how deep we are this year,” Cora said … Kenley Jansen pitched in a minor league game at Fenway South Tuesday. He faced four batters and retired all four, including two strikeouts. Jansen threw 17 pitches, 10 of which were strikes.