Sale's velocity is down but results aren't in strong spring debut he calls a 'confidence booster'

John Tomase
March 16, 2019 - 2:54 pm
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Chris Sale made his Red Sox debut two years ago in West Palm Beach with the adrenaline of a World Series tilt. He pumped 97 mph fastballs in the first inning vs. the Astros and then expressed frustration that he had lasted only two innings instead of his allotted three. He admitted feeling "energized" by fans welcoming him to Boston with hopes of another championship, but in retrospect there was clearly no point in delivering so much so soon in the Grapefruit League.

Sale wore down by the end of his first season in Boston before allowing four homers in the postseason to those same Astros as the Red Sox were eliminated in four games.

A year later, new manager Alex Cora unveiled a plan to ease his starters into the spring slate by pushing back their initial starts. Sale began April with diminished velocity but solid results before turning it on in May. He started his third straight All-Star Game and was the runaway first half favorite for the Cy Young Award before injury struck again.

Though he recorded some key outs in the playoffs and was granted the largely ceremonial role of finishing off the Dodgers in the clincher, a shoulder injury effectively ended his season in July. He was never the same pitcher thereafter.

Fast forward to Saturday. Sale is entering his third season with the Red Sox, and he has already helped deliver a title, albeit in frustrating fashion. So the Sale who made his official spring training debut against the Braves was coming at his job from a very different angle than the one who wanted to impress the world two years ago. And the results suggested that Sale has learned some lessons.

The final line was vintage Sale. He went four shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out seven. He walked none.

What made the outing interesting was its restraint. Sale's fastball never topped 93 mph, which suggested he's heeding the guidance of Cora, who has insisted since the day he arrived that he wants Sale to build slowly to the season so he's stronger at the end than the beginning.

That plan didn't work out last year, but this time around they hope to crack the code, and the initial results were encouraging.

"Today was a big confidence booster," Sale told reporters in Florida.

Sale got off to a slow start, falling behind leadoff hitter Ozzie Albies before allowing a single without cracking 90 mph. His fastball hit 92 mph during a frame that ended with Albies nabbed on a delayed steal.

The velocity remained in the low 90s in the second, but Sale otherwise looked like himself, striking out the side on two vicious sliders and a high fastball.

He ran his strikeout streak to five straight before former Red Sox farmhand Ryan LaMarre lined out to short. He finished his outing by allowing a second hit to Albies leading off the fourth before recording a pair of infield outs and then punching out Tyler Flowers on a slider.

The Red Sox haven't announced Sale as their opening day starter, but it's safe to say he'll get the ball if he's healthy in Seattle. Consider Saturday a measured, deliberate step in that direction.

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