PHOENIX – In recent outings, Chris Sale looked like his vintage self, a Cubist amalgamation of limbs and joints employing mid- to high-90s heaters and snarling sliders to overwhelm opposing hitters. But that pitcher was not in evidence at Chase Field on Friday night.
Early this week in Anaheim, Sale contracted a stomach bug that left him unable to hold down food for multiple days. His between-starts work was limited, and while he was able to make his scheduled start against the Diamondbacks, the velocity and power of his pitches was diminished.
No matter. The lefthander added to his re-emergence as a staff anchor by adapting to what he had and gutting through five innings in which he allowed just one run. Backed by a resurgent offense, Sale and the Sox cruised to a 7-2 victory over the Diamondbacks.
“I’d like to think I’ve done it enough to just be able to go out there and kind of figure it out,” said Sale. “It worked out.”
Despite the queasiness of the week, Sale pitched from a position of comfort behind a Sox offense that seemed determined to end the team’s four-game losing streak. After the club managed just one run in 24 innings in the prior four games, the Sox resurrected a familiar strategy of ambushing an opposing pitcher, this time pushing Arizona starter Brandon Pfaadt to exhaustion in the second inning.
Rob Refsnyder set the tone by fouling off a pair of 1-2 pitches before grounding an infield single. Triston Casas followed by drilling an RBI double into the right-field corner, a 111 mph rocket that was his fourth hardest-hit ball of the year.
Though Pfaadt struck out the next two batters, the Sox did not permit him to escape. Connor Wong drilled a two-strike, ground-rule double to left, and Raimel Tapia then lined a single to left to score Wong and give the Red Sox a 3-0 advantage. The Sox saw 40 pitches in the inning, tied for their fourth most in any inning this year.
The team added on another pair of runs in the fourth, when Casas led off the frame with a single and Kiké Hernández followed by hammering a first-pitch fastball into the seats in left-center for a two-run homer, his fourth longball of the year.
Armed with the comfort of a 5-0 advantage, Sale (5-2) dared the Diamondbacks to beat him on a night when his fastball mostly sat in the low-90s. They could not.
He cruised through three shutout innings in just 34 pitches before the D-backs bit him in the bottom of the fourth. Emmanuel Rivera led off with a single and scored on a Lourdes Gurriel Jr. triple that made it a 5-1 game. But Sale quickly struck back, getting Christian Walker to pop up to first, striking out Evan Longoria looking on a wicked slider, and getting dazzling rookie Corbin Carroll to ground out to second.
He then returned to the mound for a scoreless fifth, working around a walk that resulted from a full-count pitch-clock violation, at which point the Sox deemed his effort sufficient. Sale was far from the same dominant pitcher he’d been in three prior starts in May, eliciting just a sprinkling of swings and misses, but he proved resourceful when threatened.
Whenever the Diamondbacks put a runner in scoring position, Sale conjured four-seamers, sinkers, changeups, and sliders to precise locations. The mix allowed the lefthander to limit the Diamondbacks to a run on four hits and a walk while striking out three. In his last five starts, Sale has a 2.23 ERA with 37 strikeouts and just four walks in 32 1/3 innings, re-establishing himself as a steadying force atop the rotation.
“Everyone gets sick and has to go to work. You gotta do what you got to do sometimes,” said Sale. “For me, it’s important [to perform when not feeling great]. I have a pretty big role on this team.”
Sale left the game with a 5-1 lead after five innings. The Sox offense added to their advantage after his departure, tacking on a run in the sixth on a two-out Alex Verdugo double and a Justin Turner RBI single, and another in the eighth when Wong doubled and scored on a Verdugo single.
Verdugo (3-for-5, double), Casas (3-for-5, 2 doubles), and Hernández (1-for-3, homer, 2 walks) led a balanced, 14-hit Red Sox attack. For Casas, the three-hit game – one in which he was determined to attack pitches in the zone rather than chasing walks – was particularly significant.
“If I walk, it’s still gonna take three hits to score me. I’m in scoring position right when I step in the batter’s box. I understand that my power is the best part of my game,” said Casas. “I’m trying to utilize that to the best of my abilities while still maintaining what I do really well at the plate, which is match a good eye with power.”
Relievers Josh Winckowski (three innings, one run) and Brennan Bernardino (scoreless ninth) closed out the win. Bernardino was optioned to Triple-A Worcester after the game to clear a roster spot for Garrett Whitlock, who will return from the injured list to start on Saturday.
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.