Velocity down, Chris Sale did not get a swing-and-miss on his fastball
SEATTLE — Chris Sale’s first inning of 2019 looked an awful lot like his last inning of 2018, with the lefthander recording all three outs by punchout. Unfortunately for both Sale and the Red Sox, his next two frames likewise looked a lot more like the wheezing end of the year than the dominant middle of it, as Sale got tattooed for seven runs on six hits and three homers in the second and third innings to open the Red Sox’ title defense with a resounding thud as the Red Sox fell to the Mariners, 12-4.
Sale’s fastball, a devastating weapon at its best, instead proved a liability. He opened the game by averaging 93.2 m.p.h. on his four-seamer in the first inning – roughly where he worked through the first two weeks of the season in 2018 – but then dropped to 92.1 m.p.h. in the second and 91.9 in the third inning.
On top of the poor velocity, he also lacked command of the pitch, throwing just 12 of 25 four-seamers (48 percent) for strikes. Between the lack of power and precision with the offering, ineffectiveness followed: Sale did not elicit a single swing-and-miss on his fastball, the first time in 61 Red Sox starts (regular season or playoffs) that he’d failed to get a swing-and-miss on a four-seamer.
The seven runs allowed by Sale were tied for the most of his Red Sox career, and were the most by a Red Sox starter on Opening Day since 2002, when Pedro Martinez yielded eight. For the Red Sox, there is a silver lining to that Martinez outing: After that season-opening blip, he was 20-4 with a 1.97 ERA, and finished second in A.L. Cy Young voting.
Whether Sale’s first start is likewise a blip remains to be seen. But after one of the worst outings of his Red Sox career, the curiosity surrounding his next start in Oakland will intensify rapidly.
■ Sale’s outing was the start of an ugly first game of 2019 for the Red Sox, who allowed five homers (more than they gave up in 161 of their 162 regular-season games in 2018) and 12 runs (tied for their most on Opening Day since 1950). Heath Hembree forced in a run with a walk, and both Hector Velazquez and Tyler Thornburg allowed homers.
■ With the Red Sox in a hole by the time the relievers entered the game, Alex Cora’s late-innings bullpen plan remains shrouded in mystery.
■ The Red Sox accumulated 11 hits, but no homers. It’s hard to win without going deep. The Sox were just 23-30 (.434) in such games, and 55-24 (.780) when hitting at least one homer.
■ The Red Sox looked unusually disjointed defensively. Rafael Devers booted a routine grounder by trying to backhand a ball directly in front of him in the first inning. Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. had an outfield miscommunication on a routine flyball to right-center – an almost unheard-of occurrence for the two Gold Glovers. Eduardo Nunez mishandled a grounder up the middle to allow a run.
■ Mookie Betts had three hits, but more importantly, avoided catastrophic injury. On a flyball down the right-field line, Betts pulled back at the last minute while attempting to make a sprawling catch against the fence in foul territory, giving him just enough time to catch himself against the fence rather than taking a header off of it.