Chris Sale has never felt as lost on the mound as he does now

Nick Friar
April 09, 2019 - 9:10 pm

Chris Sale first became a full-time Major League starting pitcher at the beginning of 2012. From that point through April 2018, he dominated the months of March and April every season (combined 33 starts), averaging almost seven innings an outing with a 2.67 ERA and 9.6 K/9.

Fairly different from what we’ve seen to start 2019. Sale has given up 13 runs over 13 innings in his first three starts of the season. If not for the Oakland A’s, who he dominated with his slower than normal fastball, his ERA would be in double-digits, as opposed to his already sky-high 9.00.

Until 2019, Sale had only given up four or more runs in an April start twice: eight over 4 1/3 innings in 2013 and nine over three innings in 2015. (He never did it in March through 2018.) He’s done that once in March and once in April this year.

He says health isn’t a problem. The shoulder isn’t an issue, according to Sale. But there is something wrong physically, in terms of his mechanics — unless he’s somehow become predictable.

The thing is, Sale can’t pinpoint what’s wrong, which is why he feels like he’s chasing his tail.

“If I knew what it was I’d fix it,” Sale said following Tuesday’s 7-5 loss. “That’s kind of where I’m at, spinning my tires. I’m looking at this, looking at that, see if I’m tipping pitches, see if (it’s) my mechanics, if it’s this, if it’s angles. You know, I’m still searching, but I’ll find it. I know who I am. I know what I can do. I’ve been there before and I’ll keep grinding.”

There’s also the danger of this creeping into Sale’s mental game. No pitcher is impervious to their mind creating another set of problems; problems that can manifest into an irreversible mess over time.

That being said, Boston’s ace is less likely to crumble from adversity than most. Sale has a unique mentality — it’s part of what makes him an ace. But even he couldn’t use his tough exterior to completely hide his current state when asked, “Have you ever felt this lost on the mound?”

“Never in my life,” Sale said. “But it’s not going to stop me. I don’t have an inch of back-down in me. I never will, I’ll never give up. I just got to keep fighting. But it’s only going to go so far here. They don’t care if you’re trying hard. I got to start performing and putting zeroes up and winning games and that’s what I’m prepared to do.”

To make matters worse for Sale, his teammates did enough to earn a win on Tuesday, especially with him on the mound. The topic of failing his teammates only heightened his frustrations further.

“We scored five runs. We had six guys come out of our bullpen, they only gave up two runs. We (have) got to win that game,” Sale said. “This is very easy to throw on top of the pile and say, ‘we’re not playing good.’ This wasn’t us not playing good, this was me sucking today. That’s frustrating because today was the day we were going to turn it around. You know, we’re back home, (World Series ring) ceremony, in front of our home fans, playing our first home game. Everyone did what they had to do except for me and that’s a frustrating spot to be in.”

The problem with Sale isn’t his motivation; no one can make that case for two seconds. (Although, don’t put it past Mut to try.) However, the fact he is as persistent as anyone is in its own way concerning. If he’s tirelessly trying to get on track, how hasn’t he or anyone else in the Red Sox pitching brain trust figured out what’s wrong?

Just look at any normal Sale outing: he likes to come in, do his job as quickly and efficiently as possible and go home. He’d notice the slightest thing that’s out of place and iron it out as quickly as possible. Instead, Sale is three starts into 2019 and is more lost than he’s ever been on the mound — with no sign of light at the end of the tunnel.