Sale to adjust in Year 2
Ace plans to be good to go in October, too
FORT MYERS — Expect less from Chris Sale this year, at least in the beginning.
The Red Sox ace struck out 26 batters with just two walks in 21 spring training innings last year — a dominant performance, even by Grapefruit League standards — and began the regular season with a 1.19 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 372⁄3 innings in April.
Sale may not even throw that many innings before May this time around.
The Sox will be watching his workload carefully in an attempt to preserve Sale’s stamina, and the new plan is geared toward keeping him fresh for September and, hopefully, October, when he began to fade in his first year with the ballclub, though still posting a 3.00 ERA in his final six starts.
“I think once I got home (after the Division Series loss to the Houston Astros) I reflected on the season, and that was when it was like, ‘All right, something needs to change,’” Sale said yesterday at JetBlue Park. “I came into spring training a little too prepared. I felt like I had something to prove last year, too. I’m here in a new city with a new team and I felt like I had to prove myself again. I think that kind of came back to bite me in the end.”
Most pitchers use spring training to work on specific pitches or mechanical issues. Sale used last year’s exhibitions to overpower hitters.
“Last year was kind of crazy being new,” he said. “And this year is more, not really getting acclimated, but just kind of running through the same stuff. New-car smell is gone. Feeling good. Feeling normal now. Just kind of worried about baseball and take it from there.”
But the unsettling feeling stuck with Sale when he got back to Florida after the season. He felt like he wasn’t good enough in October, that he disappointed in his first taste of postseason action.
Last month, Sale revealed that he would take a different approach this time around, using a slower build-up period and hoping to spend less energy early in the season in an attempt to be more fresh by the end.
Yesterday, he reiterated a commitment to the plan, even if it means leaving April games early, should new manager Alex Cora have a tight leash on him for his first few starts.
“That’s part of the process,” Sale said. “That’s where the trust in each other and the faith in the process as a whole comes into play. (Expletive), I don’t like coming out of the game in the eighth inning with 120 pitches. What’s the difference (if I come out earlier)? For me, it’s trusting, trusting the process, trusting the big picture and knowing if he takes me out after the fifth or sixth inning, he’s not picking on me, he has a job to do too. He’s managing an entire team, not just managing me. He’s doing what’s best for the team and I have 100-percent faith in the coaching staff to get this done.”
If Sale is being held back in April and/or May, it’ll be on David Price, Rick Porcello and Drew Pomeranz to pick him up. Porcello has been durable, but Price is coming off an elbow tear and Pomeranz is coming off throwing a career-high 1732⁄3 innings.
Fifth-starter candidates Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright are both coming off knee surgery and in a “slow progression” this spring, according to Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations.
‘I’m here in a new city with a new team and I felt like I had to prove myself again. I think that kind of came back to bite me in the end.’ — CHRIS SALE On wearing down late last season
OVER THE TOP: Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale pitches during his bullpen session during the opening of spring training yesterday in Fort Myers.