Chris Sale

Evan Habeeb/USA Today Sports

Exhale, Red Sox fans -- Chris Sale looks as dominant as ever in return from disabled list

John Tomase
August 12, 2018 - 3:52 pm

The Red Sox insisted Chris Sale's injury was nothing. Chris Sale insisted Chris Sale's injury was nothing. But we needed proof.

On Sunday, Sale provided it. He returned to the rotation after missing two starts with a sore shoulder and picked up right where he left off, blanking the Orioles over five one-hit innings in a 3-1 victory that improved his record to 12-4, dropped his league-leading ERA to 1.97, and extended his scoreless innings streak to 28, the longest in baseball.

Sale had everything working, striking out 12 while walking none. His fastball topped 100 mph and his slider -- theorized by the team as the potential cause of his shoulder discomfort -- was of the wipeout variety.

"Excellent," manager Alex Cora told reporters. "Seemed like he didn't miss a beat being on the DL, his velocity was up, good slider, good changep, we've got to be disciplined on this, the way he was throwing the ball, it was very tempting to us to say one more inning but we've been disciplined the whole season and we'll stick with the plan and he was outstanding."

Baltimore's only hit against Sale came off the bat of Renato Nunez, who singled cleanly to left leading off the third. Otherwise, the Orioles were every bit as overmatched as expected in a matchup of teams separated by nearly 50 games in the standings.

Sale's performance was tremendously encouraging, particularly since by this time last year, he had already started flagging. The entire goal of ramping him up later in spring training and then shutting him down for his last two starts was keeping him dominant into October.

By that measure, Sunday's start suggested the Red Sox made the right call. Unlike late last season, when Sale's command relatively abandoned him -- the Astros exploited missed locations to hit four home runs off him last postseason -- Sale was on point. He struck out four of the first six batters he faced and on a normal day might've lasted eight innings. Instead, manager Alex Cora pulled him after just 68 pitches.

"The only thing I was really worried about was my command," Sale told reporters. "I knew that my arm felt good for a while, I felt normal for probably the last three or four days. Getting stuck in that training room can make you feel like a science project pretty quick. I felt normal, I knew I was just mainly worried about command. We saw some things early and used it to our advantage and got through it."

Sale owns a 0.20 ERA in his last seven starts (44 IP, 1 ER). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's the lowest ERA over a seven-start span of any pitcher in team history. Over those seven starts, Sale has 79 strikeouts and only six walks (h/t @SoxNotes).

"Going on the DL is not fun, you don't want to be on the sidelines," Sale told reporters. "I play once a week and to not be able to go out there your one time is not fun, especially when you've got other people doing your job and people picking me up on the other side of it. Just want to go out there and give my team a chance to win. I enjoyed it. I don't like sitting on the sidelines, so I had fun today. Today was a good day, and hopefully we keep building on that."

Sale's fantastic return just ensured that the Red Sox stayed on a roll. They've won 10 out of 11 since he missed the series opener against the Yankees. Steve Pearce gave him an immediate lead with a solo homer in the first and Sale took it from there.