HOUSTON — We still haven’t heard from Chris Sale, and we probably won’t until the Red Sox return to Boston for Games 6 and 7 of the American League Championship Series, if the series goes that far.
Sale became ill Saturday night with a stomach ailment and went to Massachusetts General Hospital early Sunday morning. The Red Sox announced Wednesday that he’s still dealing with general weakness and won’t start in Game 5 on Thursday night in Houston.
Manager Alex Cora said the plan is for the ace lefthander to build up to pitch Game 6 at Fenway Park.
Cora announced after the Red Sox’ 8-6 Game 4 win that Price, who did warm up in the bullpen in the eighth and ninth innings Wednesday, would start Game 5. Eduardo Rodriguez and Joe Kelly should be available for multiple innings.
The severity of the Sale news may have been tempered by Wednesday’s victory. With a 3-1 lead, Cora now may be able to patch together a bullpen game against Astros ace Justin Verlander and try to close out the series at Fenway this weekend.
Sale skipped a bullpen session Wednesday afternoon, but he did play long toss under the supervision of pitching coach Dana LeVangie. Sale threw for about 10 minutes before walking off the field and into the dugout and clubhouse without speaking to reporters. Everything seemed fine, but he wasn’t throwing very hard.
“He still feels weak,” Cora said of the 6-foot-6-inch Sale, listed at 180 pounds in the Red Sox media guide. “Like I said earlier, he lost some weight. I know that’s hard to believe but, yeah, he did. He’s feeling better compared to yesterday, but physically he’s not there yet. So I think if necessary he’ll pitch Game 6. He feels that he’ll be ready for that one. And we’ll go from there.”
Cora was asked if he regretted having only 11 pitchers on his ALCS roster, but the manager wouldn’t bite.
“Not really, because knowing the way we were going to use our catchers, how aggressive we could be with them, we needed that extra hitter,” Cora said. “You’ve seen already, Mitch [Moreland] has pinch-hit twice for Christian [Vazquez]. He got a base hit. He got a hit-by-pitch. So that was a reason. And also we knew Joe [Kelly] could give us multiple innings as can [Heath] Hembree, and [Brandon] Workman. So we were pretty sure that we could use those guys on multiple innings. We rely on our starters. And then we expect them to go five, six innings, just like they do.
“So that’s why we kept it at 11. Is it perfect? We’re about to see. Obviously, we didn’t expect [Chris] to feel this way, but it is what it is. We’ll manage Game 4 the way we plan it already. And if everything goes right then tomorrow we’ll find somebody to give us outs.”
No matter how you look at Wednesday’s update, it’s not good news for the Red Sox. What if Sale doesn’t feel well enough to pitch Game 6? What if he does start the game but is so weak that he’s ineffective? If the Red Sox advance to the World Series, they will need a healthy Sale to feel less squeamish.
Cora steadfastly said that Sale will be fine and now it’s a matter of the 29-year-old building up his strength.
“I’m learning very, very quickly that in the playoffs you live today, you figure out today, win or loss. And then tomorrow you have plenty of time to think about it,” Cora said. “We have options. That’s a good thing. Eduardo can go multiple innings. Joe can do that. And obviously David can give us a start if needed.”
It could all work out. Cora may have the opportunity to use a well-rested Sale as his series-clinching or series-saving starter. The Red Sox fortunes have squarely rested on Sale’s left shoulder for much of the season. Now it’s all about how much Sale can stomach.