Posted on September 12, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
On the night the Boston Red Sox officially clinched a postseason spot, they welcomed back a pitcher who may be their biggest key to postseason success. After missing over three weeks with shoulder inflammation, his second such stint this season, Chris Sale was activated from the DL for Tuesday’s start against the Blue Jays. It wasn’t a perfect outing. But it was an important one for Sale and the Red Sox with just three weeks until the start of the playoffs.
Heading into the start, Sale was limited to two innings and 40 pitches. However, after throwing 26 pitches to get out of the 1st inning, Red Sox manager Alex Cora decided that was enough. Sale gave up a leadoff double and hit a batter. But he also struck out two and coaxed an inning-ending popup with two runners on base to finish the inning.
“I was just trying to throw strikes, it was my first time back out there in a while, it sped up a little bit on me,” Sale said after the game. “Felt like I was kind of rushing a little bit, kind of got out of some of the things I need to do to stay on top of things, but ended up getting out of it, obviously relied on my bullpen a little bit more than I’d like to, but we move on.”
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Obviously, it was not a perfect outing for Sale, who continued throwing in the bullpen to reach his 40-pitch limit. But there were also plenty of positives. His first pitch registered 97 mph on the radar gun. Sale also generated seven swing-and-misses during his 26-pitch outing. In fact, Cora didn’t mind that Sale got into a little bit of trouble and didn’t need to go out for the 2nd inning.
“I thought it was high leverage,” said Cora. “He had to pitch from the get-go. He hasn’t pitched in a while. It made no sense for me (to keep Sale in the game). I was the one who made the call, it made no sense to send him out there for 10 pitches, 12 pitches, whatever. We’re taking care of the guy. His mechanics weren’t there. The speed of the game, this is the big leagues. He hasn’t pitched in a while.”
With the minor league season over, the Red Sox have no choice but to bring Sale along slowly in major league games. Of course, having a nine-game lead atop the AL East makes it a little easier to do that. The next step for Sale is to pitch three innings on Sunday against the Mets. However, the Red Sox will be closely monitoring to see how his shoulder responds.
“I know today is a big day, but I think tomorrow will be a bigger day, and then the day after will be a bigger day and see how he reacts to it,” Cora said prior to Tuesday’s game. “It seems like everything should be fine. From now on, we’re going to have this guy every five days on the mound.”
With two trips to the DL this year due to shoulder problems, concern for Sale isn’t likely to dissipate completely. Part of the reason is that he’s 12-4 with a 1.96 ERA this season. If he can stay healthy and rebuild his endurance in the next three weeks, he’ll be Boston’s ace in the postseason. There’s no denying that Sale is vital to the team’s postseason chances. Tuesday’s start was a big step toward ensuring Sale will be there for the Red Sox in October.