Chris Sale’s first start of the 2019 season was anything but a smooth ride.
The Red Sox ace allowed seven earned runs on six hits and two walks over just three innings Thursday night as Boston fell to the Mariners 12-4 in its season opener at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.
Even more concerning was that Sale’s velocity was down — he sat around 91-92 mph with his fastball — and the left-hander only struck out four batters, with three of those K’s coming in the first inning.
Perhaps it’s nothing more than a blip on the radar for one of Major League Baseball’s best hurlers. That’s the way Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie chose to look at things after Thursday’s loss, even suggesting Sale swap cars upon pulling back into the garage for his usual tune-up between starts.
“I thought he threw some really good changeups in the right delivery,” LeVangie told reporters, per WEEI.com. “That’s the delivery we want to get back into, that changeup delivery. It helped his slider. His slider wasn’t his best tonight. We’ll get back to driving the Mustang, not the Ferrari, try to increase deception and all that.”
Sale gave a blunt assessment of his shaky performance, as he typically does whenever he hits a rare bump in the road. The seven-time All-Star’s early-season backfire might invite a little extra scrutiny this time around, though, as he’s coming off a 2018 campaign in which he wore down in the second half — not the first time that has happened in his career — and just signed a five-year, $145 contract extension that begins in 2020.
Still, LeVangie doesn’t sound too concerned about Sale’s 2019 veering off the road because of one bad outing. Some maintenance work could be all that’s required for Sale to bounce back the next time he takes the ball.
“He sort of was the same person last year velocity-wise,” LeVangie said, per WEEI.com. “We don’t worry about it. We know there’s more in there. We know he’s far better than what he did tonight. It’s just cleaning up the delivery a little bit, increasing deception, spin, effectiveness of his pitches.”
There’s been no indication that Sale, who turns 30 on Saturday, is suffering any ill effects of the rather mysterious shoulder issue that plagued him last season. And it’s worth noting he only pitched nine innings of game action during spring training. Maybe he’s still knocking off some rust.
Whatever the case, the Red Sox obviously need better results from Sale moving forward. He’s their clear No. 1 starter, and they need him to perform like the front-line pitcher he’s been throughout his career if they have any chance of repeating as World Series champions.
“When Chris is right, throwing with the right pitches, right deception, everything works,” LeVangie said.
On Thursday, very little worked. It resulted in a rough ride, to say the least.