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Red Sox have plan for keeping starters fresh

Red Sox starters, including Chris Sale, have been receptive to new pitching coach Dana LeVangie’s vision for spring training.FILE/JOHN MINCHILLO/ASSOCIATED PRESS

FORT MYERS, Fla. — As Roenis Elias was preparing for his start against the Tampa Bay Rays at JetBlue Park on Saturday, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello were on Field 5 behind the stadium pitching to minor leaguers with about 35 fans watching.

Porcello threw 15 pitches, sat down, and Sale took his place on the mound. Then came what amounted to a second inning.

It’s a process they will repeat twice more, perhaps with a simulated game mixed in, before pitching in a Grapefruit League game the week of March 11. Drew Pomeranz and David Price are on the same schedule.

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Sale may get as few as three starts before the season, the others four or five. The idea is that progression is happening throughout camp, not only in games.

The slow buildup was planned months ago by new pitching coach Dana LeVangie and head athletic trainer Brad Pearson as part of the organization’s effort to keep their top starters more effective deep into the regular season and beyond.

Manager Alex Cora agreed with the idea from the start and helped sell it to the players.

“We’ve been talking about this for a while,” he said. “They understand why. One thing they really like is the day is very similar to a regular start during the season. It’s your throw day, 100 percent locked in what you’re supposed to do.

“From everything I’ve seen, everything I’ve heard, they’re throwing the ball with conviction. They’re doing a great job going about it.”

That was evident on Saturday. Porcello and Sale weren’t throwing with in-season intensity but went into every at-bat with a purpose. It was a step in the right direction, not a leap.

Sale hit 97 miles per hour on March 6 last year when he pitched his first game of spring training. Once LeVangie laid out some data — Sale has a 3.78 career earned run average in September, for instance — the lefthander was convinced to dial it back.

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“I’m confident in the plan that we have. Just roll with it,” Sale said. “Any time you have an idea you better have some facts or some kind of plan. You better have an outcome. If you present something to somebody and you don’t have anything to back it up it’s not going to stand.”

LeVangie sends text messages to the pitchers every afternoon laying out their schedule for the next day and what will be expected. It may not sound like much, but it’s an improvement from recent years.

LeVangie, the team’s bullpen coach for five years, knew he had to give the pitchers a steady flow of information. Because he was a catcher during his career and not a pitcher, he couldn’t rely on his own experiences.

“Communication is three-quarters of my battle,” LeVangie said. “If I didn’t have that communication with them, what am I going to fall back on, that I did this in the major leagues? I’ve got to have communication. There’s good feedback from everyone.”

Those daily text messages have made a difference. The pitchers have said there’s less standing around on the field.

“I really feel like I have the opportunity to narrow my focus to my bullpens and what I’m going on the mound as opposed to trying to absorb a bunch of information over the course of the day,” Porcello said.

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“There’s no rocket science to it. We’re spending less time [on the field] but the time you are out there you focus on the things you need to focus on and accomplish those. It makes it a little easier to break it down day by day.”

Sale is a six-time All-Star who has done things his way for years with great success. But he has embraced LeVangie’s vision.

“He’s a new pitching coach but he’s not new to us,” Sale said. “There’s a relationship. There is nothing that for him is new. There’s a sense of camaraderie and back and forth. He has his stuff together.”

Said LeVangie: “We’re going to try and live and die with this and take the right progression along the way. We’re building up some trust because there will be ups and downs along the way. But they’ll be ready.”


Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.