Bradford: You have every right to be worried about Chris Sale

Rob Bradford
September 27, 2018 - 1:40 am

USA Today Sports

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The message from Alex Cora had been consistent for more than a week: Wednesday was an important day.

Chris Sale was pitching.

With just under an hour left until Sept. 26 turned into Sept. 27 the Red Sox manager offered his synopsis.

"Not great, we saw that," Cora said in response to the first question following his team's 10-3 loss to the Orioles.

The big day was ultimately bigger than the Red Sox were banking on. It was the moment the ultimate wave of worry hit Red Sox fandom. The guy who was supposed to be taking the reins when it came to this team's impending World Series run still wasn't right.

Eduardo Nunez's legs. The catchers. All those relievers. Mitch Moreland. Mookie Betts' oblique. David Price's postseason performance. Even with107 wins, there was enough worry to go around. But this? This was different. This was Sale.

The progression presented to the lefty heading into the playoffs hasn't exactly gone as planned. That was clear in this last regular season start. The numbers for some would be palatable, with Sale allowing three runs over 4 2/3 innings, striking out eight along the way. But the 92-pitch outing was draped in pessimism. Throwing a fastball that averaged just more than 90 mph will do that.

"As soon as I took him out he came up here in the video room. It seems like there is something mechanically going on," Cora said. "He’s not firing his hips like he normally does. We don’t have too much time so he’ll work on it this weekend. Probably Monday he will throw and an aggressive bullpen and see where he’s at and we’ll go from there."

The manager added, "We saw a few 94 (mph) in the fourth inning I want to say, right around there. Velocity wasn’t great. The slider, the two (batters) that he hit, but then after that he had a few swings and misses. The changeup was OK. I was talking to Dave (Dombrowski) just now, his last one in Fort Myers when he pitched against Houston and he was throwing 87, 88 and everyone was concerned and he got hit by a line-drive and Opening Day happened and he pitched well. That’s what we’re looking for. Hopefully, he will find his mechanics again and he will be ready to go."

"Hopefully" should be an uncomfortable word at this time of year for this team.

When Oct. 5 rolls around it could be a different image. But when it comes to the blueprint for a return from shoulder inflammation, this wasn't on it.

"He was feeling great but it was just a matter of him just being close to 100 percent," said Cora regarding the team's plan for Sale. "I think the way we planned it out, today was six and 90. I think that's what everybody's doing. So I think he got 92, 93 pitches. The only thing we didn't accomplish over the course of the plan was him to get to the innings, which is the up and downs, which is very important for his body. But besides that, I think as far as pitch count, we went from 75 or whatever it was the last one to 90. So now everybody is throwing 90 and 100 pitches so we're right where we want to be."

Sort of.

"It’s not the time to panic," Sale said. "One-hundred seven wins into the season and October ahead of us, so, it is what it is. You take it in stride, try to build off of it, and just try to get better."

With the reality of where they've landed with Sale to end the regular season, the question if the Red Sox can get their ace back to being an ace.

Maybe it is mechanics. Or perhaps the leap Cora referenced from the end of spring training until Opening Day, when Sale's velocity maxed out at 98 mph, is around the corner. Then there is the possibility that his left shoulder still isn't quite right.

"No, I think we know where we’re at and what this is about. Things like this happen," said Sale when asked the lack of velocity was a result of the shoulder ailment. "You get out of whack, and have just got to find a way to get back into that groove."

He added, "I mean obviously I’m not where I want to be. But those are hard adjustments to make on the fly sometimes. So you try to figure it out. When you see it, when you look at it and visibly see it, it helps. We’ll address it and try to correct it."

They've got eight days to figure it out. Not exactly how the Red Sox, or Sale, planned. Welcome to uncertain world of the best team in baseball.