Sale Price goes low
Iffy aces present problem
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.
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?