After a one-inning return, what comes next for Chris Sale?
Once Alex Cora figured that Chris Sale didn’t look like himself, he decided to pull the plug on the original plan of two innings and 40 pitches. Instead, Sale lasted one inning and 26 pitches, with some bullpen work afterward in the Red Sox’ playoff-clinching 7-2 win over the Blue Jays at Fenway Park Tuesday night. That was Sale’s return to active pitching.
Sale said that he was disappointed his outing ended after one inning, but that he understood.
“I knew today was going to be an abbreviated start,” Sale said. “Three [innings] was the best-case scenario. Going out for one inning kind of stunk. I had higher hopes than that.”
Sale allowed a leadoff double to Lourdes Gurriel Jr., struck out two, then hit Kendrys Morales. After he induced Randal Grichuk to pop out to end the inning, that was it. Cora pulled the plug.
Sale sat in the dugout after his inning, but soon after he was back in the bullpen doing some more throwing. So you knew there was no injury going on. It all had a spring training feel to it.
In the one inning he pitched he was throwing 95 to 97 miles per hour, not the 98 to 100 m.p.h. he was throwing in Baltimore on his first comeback from shoulder tendinitis. That’s fast enough, but it was less velocity, which is probably a good thing.
“After he gave up the double, I thought he was in a high-leverage situation,” Cora said. “It didn’t make any sense for me to send him back out there. His mechanics weren’t there. He hasn’t pitched for a while. He’ll be ready to pitch on Sunday, and hopefully he’ll be better.”
In that busy inning, Sale got seven swings and misses — three on fastballs, three on sliders, and one on a changeup.
“As he would say, he felt like he was throwing under water a little bit,” Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie said. “It’s more arm than I’ve seen him use. So he was just kind of feeling it out, with rhythm, timing, but the next time out he’ll only get better. We’ll start with two innings, but three is a possibility, and go from there.”
LeVangie said the plan is to get Sale up to 90 to 100 pitches before the end of the regular season.
To Sale, the disappointment came in not being able to get up and down.
“We wanted to get up and down, and we did that [in the bullpen],” he said. “It would have been better to do that in the game.”
The Red Sox now hold their breath, cross their fingers, and bring out the rabbit’s feet to make sure Sale is OK on Wednesday and the next few days before his next start Sunday against the Mets at Fenway.
The Red Sox have been very careful with Sale this time around. His first game after coming off the DL the first time was a five-inning start against the Orioles that produced 12 strikeouts, high velocity, and, ultimately, a sore shoulder and a return to the DL.
LeVangie said the Red Sox feel they have enough time to get Sale stretched out, but they want to do it slowly. They have 24 days before Sale is scheduled to start in Game 1 of the divisional series on Oct. 5.
After Sunday’s two- or three-inning outing, Sale will start extending to four or five innings, then seven. It’s unlikely that he would go beyond seven innings until playoff time. And if he can go seven and get up to about 90 pitches, the buildup would be completed. Timing is of the essence. The Red Sox know their fate in the postseason is completely tied to Sale.
Right now, the Red Sox are in an acceleration mode with Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez and deceleration mode with David Price and Rick Porcello. Price will have a normal start Wednesday night against the Blue Jays, but after that Cora said he may start curtailing his innings, even against the Yankees. Cora also will cut Porcello’s outings short.
The master plan is to have all four starters capable of going deep into games by the end of the month. Getting everyone in synch is a tricky proposition, but it is hugely important in knowing your starters are clicking when it counts the most.
Think of this as Sale’s reintroduction to the major league mound. One small step, but bigger ones likely to come. At least that’s the hope.