scorecardresearch Skip to main content
Red Sox notebook

Mechanics a work in progress as Red Sox lefthander Chris Sale tries to find consistent delivery

Chris Sale has pitched into the sixth inning just once in five starts this season.Greg Fiume/Getty

Chris Sale is scheduled to make his sixth start of the season on Sunday, but which version of the lefthander will be on display?

It’s been a mostly miserable start to the season for the 34-year-old, who is 1-2 with an 8.22 ERA through five starts. It’s the highest ERA for any five-start span of his career.

Sale’s emergence as one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball from 2012-18 relied on a combination of incredible stuff and deception, the product of a funky delivery and arm slot that created unusual angles and the distraction of flying limbs. But since his return from Tommy John surgery, neither his stuff nor deception has been the same.


What’s going on?

“A lot of it’s the consistency of the movements where he repeats his delivery over and over again, so that he can command the ball where he wants to,” said Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush. “If it were one single thing, we would attack that thing and it would be very apparent. But deliveries are complicated, just like a swing. There’s a lot of pieces in the kinetic chain all linked together.”

His arm strength is fine. His four-seam fastball this year has averaged 94.4 miles per hour, close to where it was before surgery.

But his pitch movement and location haven’t been the same. Since his return in 2021, his fastball has averaged about 1.3 fewer inches of arm-side run than in his first three years with the Sox — the width of roughly half a baseball. His slider has averaged 11.4 inches of horizontal break since his return — roughly 2.4 inches less sweep across the plate, almost the width of the baseball.

It’s possible that Sale just hasn’t had the same mechanics since his return from surgery, thus altering how his pitches move. His pitch action may also reflect that, for athletes, age is not just a number.


“We’re talking multiple years now — Tommy John, plus some other injuries,” said Bush. “He’s three to four years older than he was. Most guys are going to have changes in their [movement] profile over three to four years with or without Tommy John surgery.”

Diminished slider break has made it easier for hitters to lay off pitches out of the zone and swing at those that are in it. Moreover, his misses have been further from the zone, making batters’ swing decisions easier — something that was glaring when the Orioles didn’t strike out a single time against Sale and swung and missed just twice in his last outing, a five-inning, five-run clunker.

“If he’s dotting [the fastball just above the zone] then you have to make a decision, [and] you can’t cover both [the fastball at the top of the zone and slider at the bottom],” said Sox manager Alex Cora.

One interesting element to Sale’s mechanical struggles: He’s releasing the ball considerably further in front of the rubber than before surgery. His fastball release point is about 3½ inches farther toward the batter than 2017-19, and he’s releasing his slider on average roughly 8-9 inches farther in front of the rubber. In the past, the Sox felt when Sale threw with too much extension, it led to less movement and cleaner pitch angles for opposing hitters.

He’s been working exclusively from a stretch position this year — which may offer hitters a more conventional look than the cross-body whip that characterized him at his best. In his next outing — against the Guardians, if weather permits — Sale will incorporate a version of his former windup with the bases empty.


“There’s a few things he needs to do to get back to his delivery,” said Cora. “I know extension looks good but it’s how you get to the extension that matters and right now he’s not doing it the right way.”

Regardless of how his next outing goes, Sale remains in a phase of his return to the rotation in which the Sox believe patience remains necessary.

“I do think he’s on his way,” said Bush. “It’s going the right direction and hopefully we’re getting towards the point where there’s more of the better games than the other ones.”

Kenley Jansen down

Righthander Kenley Jansen was in obvious discomfort in the Red Sox clubhouse following his ninth-inning blown save in Saturday’s 8-7 10-inning walkoff win over the Guardians at Fenway Park.

He experienced back spasms prior to the game, tried to pitch through them, but struggled while yielding his first blown save of the season. Jansen said he’ll be unavailable Sunday and Monday. Will he be back on Tuesday?

“Let’s hope,” he said.

Chris Martin on the mend

Reliever Chris Martin (shoulder inflammation), who allowed two unearned runs in a rehab game for Triple A Worcester on Friday, is likely to be activated from the injured list .


“I feel like I got what I needed [from the rehab outing] and today I feel good,” said Martin, who had a 2.57 ERA but with just two strikeouts before going on the injured list.

Martin said he refined elements of his workouts to improve movement throughout his body and take stress off his shoulder.

“I’m starting to feel better,” said Martin. “I’ve just got to keep with the process and keep working on the tedious things.”

Righthander Kaleb Ort (7.30 ERA in 12 appearances) was optioned after Saturday’s game, presumably to clear a roster spot for Martin.

James Paxton’s next step

Lefthander James Paxton is scheduled to start for Worcester on Sunday, after which the team will determine if he needs an additional rehab outing. He’s allowed 14 runs (13 earned) in 11⅓ innings with 14 strikeouts and 10 walks over his four rehab outings. “It’s a work in progress,” said Cora. “The good thing is that he’s trending in the right direction, he’s been able to bounce back after every outing, which is the most important thing.” … Triston Casas (.133/.283/.293) was out of the lineup Saturday and likely will also sit Sunday against lefthander Logan Allen.

Alex Speier can be reached at Follow him @alexspeier.