Why Chris Sale believes he is built for the long haul

Rob Bradford
March 03, 2019 - 9:26 pm

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The conversation was appropriate all things considered.

While there are few pitchers in Major League Baseball with the qualifications of Chris Sale, the need to predict the pitcher's future seems part of his current existence. Sale is in the last year of his contract with the debate regarding what kind of commitment he deserves going forward raging on. Is it worth locking up the lanky lefty well into his mid-30's, or will that unique way of throwing a baseball ultimately catch up to the starter?

The naysayers will be quick to highlight Sale's slight frame, herky-jerky delivery and a history that includes last season's shoulder hiccup and a 2018 season that included just 158 regular season innings. That's why it didn't seem unreasonable to ask the Red Sox ace if anyone has attempted to offer a perceived preemptive strike and try to change the pitching motion.

"No," he told WEEI.com. "Tweaks here or there, but not ever changing."

OK, the consistency and dominance since originally altering his pitching delivery between his freshman and sophomore years in college would suggest no urgency to alter the process.

"In theory, I guess," he said.

But what about the future. The arguments regarding committing to starting pitchers in their 30's are polarizing enough, nevermind when it involves the unique elements of Sale's existence. But the Sox' pitcher has a message: Not to worry, and here's why ...

"It has worked. I’ve been able to use it. For me, I don’t think it’s mechanics. I think it’s consistency," Sale explained. "You can have a guy that throws over the top but if he’s not repeating his mechanics over and over he’s going to get hurt. Pitching from three different slots. The front-side is bailing out. Legs aren’t strong. You don’t have a good core. I don’t care what kind of mechanics you have, you’re not going to last. You’re not going to have sustainable success.

"We have guys who throw from here, here and down here and they’ve all proven to be successful. The more you can repeat whatever you’re doing … Walking. If you start walking different you’re going to have knee problems. But if you walk the same way over and over and over you’re going to be fine. So I always focused on what I do as opposed to doing something different that may or may not be beneficial."

Sale has been fortunate. He hasn't had to endure coaches attempting to fix what wasn't broken, with his former pitching coach Don Cooper ultimately kicking off the pitcher's professional career with the most important message.

"I talked to a lot of strength coaches and my pitching coach, Coop, over there. He was one of the biggest advocates against changing anything," Sale said. "If anything you’re staying taller and being a little more smooth, working back to front. Those kinds of things. But he would straight-up tell me, ‘No, you’re not changing.’ Coop was one of the guys who would always be very, very against (changing). He would always come to be and say, ‘What are they talking about?’"

When quoted in a 2015 Bleacher Report article about Sale's delivery, Cooper certainly seemed like there was little room for interpretation.

"Quacks," Cooper said when asked about those suggesting Sale needed to change. "I've devoted my life to mechanics. It's something I've put a lot of time into. And I resent all of that: Is he going to be healthy? Is he going to stay healthy? Is he going to need Tommy John surgery? These are quacks. Show me your credentials."

Sale has certainly bought in and continues to. This is why he carries so much confidence regarding what awaits.

The notion surfaced by many (including Red Sox principal owner John Henry) that 30-something starters weren't worth hefty investments has dissipated some. The likes of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Jon Lester and David Price are some who have started changing in minds. And Sale believes he knows the reason why.

"If you look at those guys work out in the offseason, all those guys get after it," he noted. "Obviously you’re not going to be 55 or 60 years old and still throwing a 95 mph baseball no matter how hard you work. But, shoot, Nolan Ryan was 45 throwing 98. There are two things: Repeating your mechanics and hard work. There is nothing you can do instead that is going to get you the same result.

"Just repeating it over and over," Sale added. "That's it."