The last time Red Sox ace Chris Sale was on the mound, pitching coach Dana LeVangie had to double check to make sure he was reading the numbers right.
By the fourth inning of the Sox’s 10-5 win over the Kansas City Royals last week, Sale had already piled up double-digit strikeouts. After six innings, Sale finished with an even dozen.
All the K’s seemed like they came in a blur to LeVangie.
“Somebody mentioned he had 12 strikeouts, I didn’t even think he got that many because it happened so fast,” he said. “It’s like they go by without you even noticing sometimes.”
Over his past four starts, Sale has been sawing through lineups. He’s the first pitcher in major league history to put together four straight starts with 11-plus strikeouts and one or zero walks, according to Elias Sports. In that stretch, Sale has a 1.00 ERA and 47 strikeouts while allowing just 13 hits, and four walks.
It’s the kind of run that made LeVangie flash back to some of baseball’s fiercest flamethrowers.
LeVangie went back to his days as the Sox’ bullpen coach in the late-1990s and early 2000s when Pedro Martinez practically breathed fire from the mound.
“I had a chance to see Pedro pitch, for the most part, every time he pitched here and when Pedro was healthy and at his peak, pretty similar,” LeVangie said. “Electric. The fan base was electric when they were on the mound, just the excitement because there’s a chance to see something special any time they take the mound.”
Sox manager Alex Cora went back even further to 1995, when Randy Johnson struck out 294 batters and pushed the Seattle Mariners to their first postseason appearance in franchise history.
“He’s reminding me a lot of Randy Johnson when he was dominant,” Cora said. “I saw Randy when he played with my brother in 1995. That was amazing to see. It’s kind of like effortless right now. You look up, and it’s like, ‘Oh, he struck out 12, and there’s only one walk.’ He’s throwing 99, and it’s not a grind. It’s not a grind right now. Physically, he’s in a great spot. Mechanically, he’s right where he wants to be, and he’s dominating.”
Sale will make his 20th start of the season Wednesday in the Sox’s series finale against the Rangers.
While the effortless nature of Sale’s performances may be high praise, it has also been the driving force LeVangie said.
“That’s a key factor because hitters always sense effort,” LeVangie said. “When you’re reaching back and trying to touch 100, and there’s effort involved and not so much effort when you’re throwing your other stuff, hitters are going to sense that, and they pick it up right away, so it is effortless, he’s throwing all his pitches in the same delivery and repeating the same delivery.”
Over his past four starts, he has thrown his fastball at an average of 97.7 miles per hour and his sinker at 95.2. Before that, his heater was averaging 95.3 miles per hour, and his sinker was at 92.7.
“He made some adjustments in his delivery and got back into his old windup,” LeVangie said. “So there was a little bit of a transition period in how he was going about his delivery, and he watched some video, noticed it and he’s been clicking ever since.
“It took some time for him to find it on the video and kind of get back to being himself and he’s sort of taken off since then. His velocity’s been consistent. He adds and subtracts when he wants to anyway. But when he wants to reach back and touch 100, he’s able to, and he knows how to go back to it.”
Sale’s run of four straight starts with double-digit strikeouts is tied with Indians starter Trevor Bauer for the longest streak this season.
“I don’t want to take that for granted,” LeVangie said. “I thought they were at eight, but it was 12. That’s how it goes.”
Cora’s decision to use the outfield combination of Andrew Benintendi in left field, Mookie Betts in center, and J.D. Martinez in right Monday was not only a sign of how comfortable he’s become with Martinez in right but how much of a luxury he has with the collection of outfielders at his disposal.
In Betts, Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley Jr., he has three elite center fielders. The ability to have at least two of them in the outfield at all times is almost akin to the Golden State Warriors having multiple playmakers on the floor at any given moment.
He’s taken advantage of a uniquely talented outfield with different alignments throughout the season. Last month, with righthander Rick Porcello facing Twins slugger Joe Mauer, Cora took a recommendation from the analytics department and lined Betts in right-center, Bradley in left-center, and Benintendi down the left-field line, essentially leaving right field uncovered. Mauer went 0 for 3, his final out a line drive to right-center.
“You can put them in spots that they’re going to cover that area,” Cora said. “But at the same time, if there’s a high fly ball somewhere, they can make it . . . We just put them in an area and we feel they can cover that and they can make the outstanding play or the five-star play as they call it.”
At the same time, it gives Cora options. He can complement any of them with Martinez, Brock Holt, or Blake Swihart and still field a capable outfield unit.
“I think it just gives A.C. more flexibility on giving guys breaks and giving guys breaks and days off and maybe DHing guys sometimes,” Holt said. “He feels confident that we’re not going to lose anything.”
The Sox’s rotation after the All-Star break is still up in the air. Cora said he’ll wait to decide how many days’ rest he wants each pitcher to have.
The picture will likely become clearer Friday, he said. Sale, who will make his last start of the first half Wednesday, could get an extended break.
‘He’ll pitch Tuesday,” Cora said. “So we’ll go from there. We don’t want him to have too much time in between. I think the all-star break kind of benefits in this case.”
How Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright may fit in after the break is also still unclear. Pomeranz is scheduled to make another rehab start Saturday and will likely pitch again over the all-star break. Wright’s recovery has been a slower process.
“He needs to get back on the mound,” Cora said. “But with his uniqueness, if that thing is not spinning and it’s good, maybe he doesn’t need to have too many rehab starts.”
Beeks gets call
Lefthander Jalen Beeks was summoned from Triple A Pawtucket for his second stint in the big leagues this season.
Righthander William Cuevas was optioned to the PawSox.
Beeks made his major league debut in June, giving up six runs in four innings in a loss to the Tigers. He was 5-5 with a 3.05 ERA in 15 starts in Pawtucket and made the International League All-Star team.
Beeks came in for Hector Velazquez to start the fourth inning Tuesday night. Beeks was bounced around a bit in the 8-4 win over the Rangers, giving up four hits and three runs in 2⅓ innings.
Cora said he’ll come out of the bullpen.
Surgery for Diaz
In a star-crossed season for the Red Sox farm system, injuries continued to hammer the organization’s top prospects.
On Tuesday, according to a team source, power-hitting third baseman Danny Diaz — a 17-year-old who launched six homers in 26 games in the Dominican Summer League — underwent surgery to repair a broken hamate bone.
A typical timetable for recovery of roughly six weeks would take him almost to the end of the DSL season, creating a likelihood that Diaz will miss the rest of the minor league season.
He should be ready to resume games by the instructional league season.
Fellow DSL standout Antoni Flores, a shortstop who, like Diaz, signed with the Red Sox for a $1.5 million bonus last summer, hasn’t played since June 18.
After Flores hit .347/.439/.510 in 13 games, he seemed like a candidate to move up to the rookie Gulf Coast League. However, after missing the last three weeks, he’s expected to miss a few more, though Flores is expected to return to games before the end of the year.
Diaz and Flores represent high-upside players who rank among the top dozen or so Red Sox prospects. They join a host of top Sox prospects — lefthander Jay Groome (out for the year because of Tommy John surgery), first-rounder Triston Casas (out for the year after surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament), corner infielder Michael Chavis (season-opening 80-game suspension for testing positive for a PED), and second-rounder Nick Decker (wrist fracture) — who have missed significant time this year.
Johnson on track
Brian Johnson, who was placed on the disabled list retroactive to June 5 with inflammation in his left hip, went through pitchers fielding practice and will likely throw a bullpen Wednesday. Cora said the 27-year-old lefthander is on schedule to return Sunday . . . Christian Vazquez underwent successful surgery Tuesday at Newton-Wellesley Hospital to put a pin in his fractured right pinky finger. The surgery was performed by Dr. Matt Leibman and the timetable for his recovery is expected to be six to eight weeks . . . Marco Hernandez, 25, had a left shoulder anterior stability revision procedure performed Tuesday at the Vail Medical Center/Steadman Clinic, in Vail, Colo. Dr. Matthew Provencher performed the operation. The infielder will miss the rest of the season.
Alex Speier of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.