Chris Sale made his Grapefruit League debut today for the Boston Red Sox, pitching four innings against the Miami Marlins. Sale surrendered just one run on four hits while striking out five batters in his first 2018 spring training appearance. It was an impressive debut for the Red Sox star pitcher who will once again be tasked with anchoring Boston’s formidable starting rotation in 2018.
Sale kicked off his Red Sox career with a stellar 2017 campaign, going 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA while striking out a Major League Baseball-leading 308 batters. He came exactly as advertised after the Red Sox traded an impressive package of prospects, including Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, to the Chicago White Sox back in December of 2016. Sale’s dominance on the mound propelled the Red Sox into the playoffs last season where they were swiftly and soundly defeated in four games by the eventual World Series champions, the Houston Astros.
It was during that American League Division Series that Sale faltered and began to show signs of fatigue. In the two games that Sale took the mound during that series he surrendered a total of nine runs on thirteen hits while only managing to get through nine and two-thirds innings. At a time when the Red Sox needed their shutdown ace the most, Sale was unable to deliver for his new team.
There was disappointment abound throughout Red Sox nation due to the team’s lackluster performance in the postseason, but the biggest question raised by fans and media alike pertained to Chris Sale and his durability. Many in Boston wondered if Sale, who pitched 214 innings that season, was burnt out heading into the postseason due to over-use.
In a recent MLB.com inbox session, Red Sox beat reporter Ian Browne answered such a question from a fan whom had asked if Sale would have benefited from more rest last season. Browne was also asked if the Red Sox had any plans on resting Sale more during this upcoming 2018 season, to which he responded with the following:
“Without question, the Red Sox are looking into possible reasons Sale’s performance has dipped in September for three consecutive seasons. They will try to come up with a plan to prevent this from happening again. Possible solutions include a built-in break at some point during the season, giving him extra rest at times, or being more mindful of limiting pitch count when the occasion allows for it. For Boston to be at its best, it needs Sale at his best at the most important time of year.”
The last sentence of Browne’s response is the key to the whole situation surrounding Chris Sale and his usage throughout the grueling 162-game regular season. Sale is, without question, Boston’s best starting pitcher, hence the temptation to have him throw as many innings as possible to help ensure the success of the team. However, the Red Sox cannot ignore the fact that Sale has consistently floundered in the latter months of the season throughout his career. In the months of September and October going back the past three seasons Sale has posted the following numbers:
- 2017: 3.72 ERA, .272 opponent batting average
- 2016: 4.39 ERA, .258 opponent batting average
- 2015: 4.34 ERA, .290 opponent batting average
Numbers don’t lie, and the Red Sox must take those numbers into serious consideration when planning for the upcoming 2018 season. Chris Sale is undoubtedly an ace but he is clearly not a workhorse who can deliver 200+ innings while maintaining his dominance.
Boston will have to rely on its other starters, such as David Price, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez, as well as knuckleballer Steven Wright to help shoulder the load this season. The Red Sox will also lean on an improved bullpen which will, hopefully, see a full season from right-handed specialist, Carson Smith, and former starter-turned-reliever, Brandon Workman. They will also receive a boost in the bullpen with the eventual return of Tyler Thornburg, who is recovering from surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder. With more pitching depth the Red Sox should be able to curtail Chris Sale’s innings pitched and keep him relatively fresh for an anticipated return to the postseason.
A healthy, rested Chris Sale could make a world of difference for a Red Sox team poised to make another run at the American League postseason in 2018.
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