Sale Price goes low

Iffy aces present prob­lem

Boston Herald - - SPORTS - RED SOX BEAT Michael Sil­ver­man Twit­ter: @MikeSil­ver­manBB

ST. PETERS­BURG, Fla. — The Red Sox have a No. 1 pitcher who lately’s been pitch­ing like a No. 3.

And an­other No. 1 pitcher is about to au­di­tion for a bullpen job for the first time in nine years.

Nope, the Red Sox are not at all hip-deep in un- char­tered ter­ri­tory with Chris Sale and David Price.

And what tim­ing, too, with the play­offs be­gin­ning in a lit­tle over two weeks.

This is an un­set­tling state of af­fairs. It should leave the Red Sox and their fans con­cerned.

Un­cer­tainty to this ex­tent with these two pitch­ers this late in the sea­son was most definitely not in the 2017 team blue­print in De­cem­ber. That held good for about two weeks in Fe­bru­ary when Price’s el­bow came down with sore­ness and stiff­ness and made just 11 starts be­fore his latest job op­por­tu­nity came up.

Sale cer­tainly came as ad­ver­tised and is still a strong con­tender for the Cy Young Award. But part of his pack­age was that he had a ten­dency to fade in Septem­ber. And as hard as Sale and the Red Sox have tried to pre­vent the fade, it didn’t work.

It’s here.

In his last six starts, he’s av­er­aged just five-plus in­nings, has al­lowed seven home runs and an .805 OPS with a 4.64 ERA.

He’s never pitched in the play­offs, so we don’t truly know how he’ll pitch in Oc­to­ber. Is he go­ing to catch a sec­ond wind that will bring about the sec­ond com­ing of his first four months here?

Hopes sure are high be­cause he’s Chris Sale.

Prayers are trend­ing, too, be­cause it’s Septem­ber and he’s not pitched like the Chris Sale we were in­tro­duced to. And when you start us­ing “hopes” and “prayers” with his name, you start to won­der ex­actly how solid the foun­da­tion which the Red Sox built — pitch­ing — truly is.

“As much as we’re try­ing to build in some ad­di­tional rest when pos­si­ble you can’t turn your back to­ward (Sale’s) work­load,” said man­ager John Far­rell yes­ter­day, the day af­ter Sale couldn’t make it through six in­nings, walked three and sur­ren­dered two home runs and four runs. “We rec­og­nize it. I think just to the eye test it shows you we’re deep into Septem­ber, he’s had a very strong year — an in­cred­i­ble year in many ways — so, yeah, we see the al­most ev­ery other start bot­tom line of per­for­mance right now.”

And Sale’s cur­rent bot­tom line does not re­sem­ble his ear­lier bot­tom line.

So where does that leave the Red Sox?

“Con­cerned? It’s Chris Sale,” said Far­rell. “And on any given day, there’s the abil­ity to go out and give you seven in­nings with dou­ble-digit strike­outs, so (he) just hasn’t been as con­sis­tent as the first three-plus months.”

There’s re­ally not much the Sox can do here other than have him back off on bullpens in be­tween starts (which they’ve done), skip a start, give him more rest or pull him ear­lier from starts. Or all of the above. But the Red Sox can’t af­ford to do that. They have a slim divi­sion lead to pro­tect. They can’t let up too much on Sale. Not now.

“Pos­si­bly, I don’t want to rule that out but we don’t want to think that far ahead, ei­ther,” said Far­rell about giv­ing Sale a lot more ex­tra rest be­fore Oc­to­ber ar­rives. “I’m not wor­ried about it, but I’m also re­al­is­tic in the fact that pitch­ers, this late in the year when you start to build 200-plus in­nings, the num­ber of pitches thrown, you have to kind of look at to­day and see how to­day is un­fold­ing.”

What will un­fold with Price re­mains a mat­ter of in­tense spec­u­la­tion. He was mas­ter­ful from the bullpen in Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber of 2008, when the Rays called him up in mid-Septem­ber and in­tro­duced him to the re­liever’s life.

If he’s healthy enough to step back on a mound, then this plan should work. On pa­per, it makes a ton of sense. But blue­prints ... “I think we’re all look­ing for­ward to David get­ting back to us,” said Far­rell. “When he’s right, when he’s healthy, you’re look­ing at a power left-han­der. So, set­ting aside the role, the fact that he’s get­ting back to game ac­tiv­ity and healthy, that’s a boost.”

Be­fore we even get to imag­ine how Price will per­form, we have to won­der how he will be used.

And Far­rell still doesn’t ex­actly know that.

“We’ll see how the game un­folds, see how many pitches he throws in the first in­ning,” said Far­rell. “There will be a num­ber of con­trib­u­tors to all that but I wouldn’t think it would be more than two (in­nings).”

One or two in­nings from Price. Five, maybe six or seven or, good lord have mercy, eight or nine in­nings from Sale.

Who can say what’s in store with these guys?

No­body.

STAFF FILE PHOTO BY MATT WEST

AP PHOTO

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