FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) – The Boston Red Sox want Chris Sale to go slowly this spring. The ace left-hander is getting used to the plan.
Sale pitched four innings of one-run ball in his first spring training game Friday against Miami. He allowed two hits, struck out five and walked none in Boston’s 5-4 loss.
The Red Sox are monitoring Sale’s workload this spring, so he began his preparations for the season in minor league games on the backfields of the team’s training complex. He got into the upper 90s in the first inning against the Marlins, and manager Alex Cora and pitching coach Dana LeVangie suggested it might be a good idea to dial it down.
“Had to change it up after that,” Sale said. “I’m still working on that build up. You get out there the first time in front of a crowd and you want to go out there and compete. But you have to understand the end goal. We kind of came to that together. It’s not easy to dial it back and trust the process.
“I have 100 percent trust in our coaching staff, medical staff, strength staff. These guys know what they’re doing. I trust them. They have information and hard facts to back up what it is. We’re all pulling from the same rope.”
But it’s a slightly different approach.
“Game management, tempo, rhythm and keeping my head on my shoulders,” Sale said while addressing what he is working on. “When things go south, I tend to rear back and try to throw harder. We’re trying to eliminate waste pitches and maybe things between starts.”
Sale threw 58 pitches. He allowed his only run on Justin Bour’s sacrifice fly in his final inning.
For the most part, Cora liked what he saw in Sale’s first Grapefruit League start.
“I saw a few things that I talked to him about and a few adjustments I think he should make, but at the end of the day his stuff is unreal,” Cora said. “Wow, this is 96 mph and the slider. He gets the ball and he doesn’t let you breath. He’s on that elite level. The fact he’s accepted what we wanted to do is great because he understands it’s 162 games and that we might have to pitch him until November.”
Cora has not named an opening-day starter, but Sale is on schedule to start March 29 against Tampa Bay. And after his performance in his first season in Boston, Sale is the logical choice.
Sale, who was acquired in a December 2016 trade with the White Sox, went 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA in 32 starts last year, leading the majors with 214 1/3 innings and 308 strikeouts. He started for the American League in the All-Star Game and finished second in the AL Cy Young Award race.
But Sale, who turns 29 on March 30, struggled late in the season. In 11 August and September starts, he went 7-4 with a 4.09 ERA, averaging six innings. The Red Sox want to make sure he is strong for the stretch run and possibly another postseason.