The pressure has mounted on Chris Sale with seemingly every start he makes for the Boston Red Sox this season.
Boston’s ace has yet to win a game and is 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA. What’s more worrisome is that Sale simply has not been the same pitcher he was for the vast majority of last season, when he was utterly unhittable for the better part of the summer.
Sale’s velocity has not been anywhere near what fans and opposing hitters are accustomed to from the 6-foot-6 hurler, with his fastball topping out in the low 90s. In his first start at Fenway Park this season against the Blue Jays last Tuesday, Sale topped out in the mid-90s, but struggled, allowing five earned runs in four innings.
And one All-Star hitter told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci that Sale simply cannot pitch when he doesn’t have his velocity behind him.
“He can’t pitch at 91-92,” the anonymous slugger said.
“When he’s throwing 97 you have to gear up for 97. And that makes you vulnerable to being out front on his breaking ball,” he added. “But when he’s throwing 91, 92, it’s a whole different game. You know he can’t beat you with the fastball. So you can stay back and let the ball travel. Now you’re going to be on time against the breaking ball. If you don’t have to honor the 97, it’s a whole different at-bat. That’s why I say he can’t pitch at 91-92.”
The numbers quite simply say it all, as Verducci also pointed out.
“Sale simply hasn’t been the same since he went on the IL with shoulder inflammation July 31, 2018. In the 10 games before the injury, he averaged 97.1 mph with his four-seam fastball. In his 10 games since then (including the postseason) he has averaged 93.2 mph,” he wrote.
“Batting average against his fastball before: .151. Batting average against his fastball since: .333.”
Sale will be very much under the microscope on Tuesday night as the Red Sox head to the Bronx to take on the New York Yankees. Sale will oppose the Yanks’ own struggling power lefty in James Paxton.
A good start from Sale could go a long way in righting the ship. And, of course, he also gained back his batterymate with the Red Sox calling Sandy Leon up from Triple-A Pawtucket.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images