In many ways, Chris Sale’s latest start was the yet another installment in what’s been a maddening, concerning and all-around disappointing season for the Boston Red Sox ace. He did drop to 0-5 with a 6.30 ERA, after all.
In some respects, however, Sale’s performance Sunday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays was his most encouraging of the season.
Sale allowed four runs (two earned) on four hits while walking three and striking out eight over seven innings in his team’s 5-3 loss at Fenway Park. He threw a season-high 111 pitches, 72 of which went for strikes. If you were looking for reason to believe that Sale’s shoulder is OK, Sunday’s outing should suffice.
Still, this was a strange effort from the star left-hander.
Sale allowed a two-run homer to Daniel Robertson in the first inning, putting the Red Sox in the kind of early hole they’ve been incapable of climbing out of this season. Then, in the second inning, after Rafael Devers botched what should have been an inning-ending double play, Sale allowed a two-run triple off the bat of Yandy Diaz.
All the while, Sale’s fastball sat in the 89-92 mph range, his slider lacked anything resembling bite and his usual pin-point command was nowhere to be found. He also continued to struggle with men on base. Again, in many ways, this was a continuation of everything that’s gone wrong for Sale thus far.
But then he retired 11 of his next 12 batters, touched 96 mph on the radar gun and, honestly, dominated the Rays. He looked like, well, Chris Sale.
So, what to make of all this?
“Obviously, velocity wasn’t there,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said after the game, as seen on NESN’s postgame coverage. “Early in the game, he struggled with command. But after that he found it. He induced weak contact, was able to get some swings and misses up in the zone.
“It’s not where, fastball wise, where everybody hoped it (would be), but he gave us seven. After the second inning, he started pitching, found command of the off-speed pitches.”
As for Sale himself, the star lefty maintains he’s a work in process, but nevertheless is disappointed with his performance.
“Gotta put my team in a better position early on,” he said. ” … Still building, feel like a broken record saying the same things over and over. At the end of the day, I just need to be better.
” … I’m grinding.”
Ultimately, Sunday’s outing can best be described as a moderately encouraging “meh.” Whether that’s acceptable for a pitcher and team with such lofty standards as Sale and the Red Sox is a different discussion, though.
Here are some other notes from Sunday’s Red Sox-Rays game:
— Sunday’s loss dropped the Red Sox to 7 1/2 games behind the Rays for first place in the American League East.
“We haven’t been consistent,” Cora said. “If we pitch, we don’t hit, if we hit (we don’t pitch). .. Defensively, we show flashes, then we don’t. We haven’t been able to put everything together.”
— Steve Pearce finished 0-for-4 and now is hitting just .103 on the season.
“He’s searching,” Cora said. “You can see it.”
— J.D. Martinez missed his second straight game with back spasms, but Cora is confident the Red Sox slugger will be able to play Monday night against the Oakland Athletics.
— Sale is used to pitching to Sandy Leon, but it was Christian Vazquez who handled catching duties Sunday afternoon.
“Need offense,” Cora said. “Christian has been swinging the bat well.”
— Over a month into their World Series title defense, the Red Sox haven’t won a single series at Fenway Park.