Desperate times for the Red Sox and ace Chris Sale

Andy Hart
July 17, 2019 - 12:25 pm

Chris Sale seems to be a broken man right now, if not physically then certainly mentally.

Mired in the midst of a midsummer nightmare season, the Red Sox ace had a bullpen session in Boston Tuesday afternoon that was anything but normal.

The workout took place in front of a collection of apparently concerned teammates, including other pitchers as well Boston’s two catchers.

Why all the attention?

Well, because these are desperate times for both Sale and his team. The perennial American League Cy Young candidate is slogging through a terrible season in which he’s logged a 3-9 record through 19 starts with a 4.27 ERA. He’s allowed 17 home runs already, compared to just 11 a year ago.

Months removed from signing a five-year, $145 million contract extension, Sale has yet to win a game at Fenway Park this season for a defending World Champion Red Sox team that’s 10 games back of the Yankees in the A.L. East and three games out of the second wild card spot.

Sale hit the All-Star break sounding about as down in the dumps as an elite athlete could.

“I just haven’t been good. I’ve got to find a way to be better. Probably as frustrated as I’ve ever been playing baseball,” Sale said July 4 via MassLive, this after declaring earlier in the year that his April struggles were “flat-out embarrassing, for my family, for my team, for our fans. This is as bad as it gets.”

For his part, Red Sox manager Alex Cora spun the unique bullpen session this week as a positive family affair. All hands on deck to get Sale sailing in the right direction if you will, as it apparently takes a village to raise a 10-year MLB veteran with 106 wins, seven All-Star Game appearances and 2.99 career ERA out of a slump.

“It was teammates being teammates. Just being there and watching," manager Alex Cora said. "Everybody knows about the game and obviously pitchers know about mechanics and usage and all that, but I think for them to be there it means a lot. It means a lot where we’re at as a team and you never know, someone might pick something up that me, Dana [LeVangie] or [Craig Bjornson] hasn’t seen. It was good. Sandy [Leon] and Christian [Vazquez] were there too, so you don’t see that often.

"I think that was good for the team to let him know, ‘Hey, we’re here for you.’”

That’s one very positive perspective. Another option? The bullpen session was a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency effort, a desperation intervention if you will. An admission that no one really has any idea how to get the usually confident, dominant lefty out of his funk. The suggestion box is open.

That is a truly scary thought.

Is some other lesser member of the staff really supposed to see a minute mechanical hitch in Sale’s giddy up, one that neither he nor his coaches have previously pinpointed?

Should one of the cast of underperforming characters from the Sox beat-up bullpen really be asked to advise Sale in his own bullpen session?

Was this simply a show of support by teammates for a man they perceive to be going through a major lack of confidence? And if so, how in the heck could a macho, alpha male like Sale have felt seeing the need for his teammates to hold this impromptu group therapy bullpen session?

Like Sale’s turbulent season -- there was a stretch in May and early June in which he showed flashes of his dominant self -- there are more questions than answers surrounding the Sox ace and his recent work between starts.

Sale returns to the mound Thursday afternoon at Fenway for a start against the Blue Jays. He’ll be looking to bounce back from three consecutive losses in which he’s given up five earned runs in each outing. He’ll be seeking his first regular season victory in front of the home crowd in nearly a calendar year.

The good news is that he clearly has the support and assistance of his teammates in these tough times, as shown by Tuesday’s curious bullpen session. The bad news is that he needed.

Only time will tell if whatever exactly it was that occurred during that bullpen session this week at Fenway Park is the medicine to cure whatever has mentally or physically ailed Sale this summer.

But as the cliche goes, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Related: David Price responds to Dennis Eckersley's comments to Boston Globe about airplane incident