Chris Sale Takeaways: Thoughts, Observations From Red Sox Ace’s Return

It was a sharp return for Sale

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Chris Sale is back.

The Boston Red Sox ace made his return to big league action Saturday, two years following his last MLB start and over 17 months since undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Sale struck out eight and allowed just two runs across five innings, all without surrendering a walk in a 16-2 beatdown of the Baltimore Orioles.

Here are some takeaways, thoughts and observations from the start.

— It was nice to see Sale’s willingness to go to his slider. After all, that pitch is his biggest asset, but throwing junk is a bigger test on the arm than just throwing gas.

Sale seemed more than happy to use that as his putaway pitch, and while it didn’t necessarily have “midseason form” bite, it was effective enough to confuse Oriole hitters.

When Sale was beginning his rehab starts, it was a fairly healthy diet of fastballs he was tasked with throwing. For that reason it was worth wondering if he was going to dial back the non-fastball pitches in his MLB return, especially against a team like the Orioles. That he didn’t is as clear a sign as ever that he is fully comfortable with his full arsenal and the health of his arm.

All told, 52 percent of his pitches were the fastball/sinker, 28 percent were changeups and the other 20 were sliders.

— Sale’s fastball topped out at 96, but for the most part, sat around 93-94.

That is probably the best possible velocity for where Sale is at.

We all know that Sale is someone who needs to be saved from himself. He has a tough time reeling it in occasionally, which is why sometimes he’d reach back and throw 101 during his early-season starts.

The reality is everyone in baseball can hit a fastball, even if it is in the high 90s, low 100s. Sale can be just as effective by locating a mid-90s heater, while really burying hitters with the sweeping slider. And lest we forget Sale is 32 and coming off major surgery, so there’s really no need to dial up the heat every time.

— We can’t help but wonder how Sale felt about the long breaks in the early innings.

It took an hour to get through the first two innings, which was the product of the Red Sox offense putting up six runs. Obviously, Sale had to have loved the support, but also must’ve been getting antsy waiting so long in between innings.

Ultimately, it didn’t seem to have an impact on him, but he probably was getting restless.

— Sale gave up two homers, and it seemed like they happened for different reasons.

The first one was a solo shot to Austin Hays in the top of the third. With the count full, Sale tried to finish off the right fielder with a changeup, which he left over the heart of the plate. Hays crushed it and it left the park in a hurry. Given Sale had just missed with a changeup and hadn’t thrown a slider since the third pitch of the at-bat, it’s curious that a changeup was the call there. Sale doesn’t shake off his catcher, so that decision was made by Christian Vázquez.

Trey Mancini, the next hitter, also hit a solo shot, which snuck just over the wall in dead center. That one looked like more of a missed location from Sale, who put a 93-mph fastball upstairs for the hard-hitting Mancini, which is never a wise idea.

Mistakes happen, and those were the two Baltimore punished.

— It’s really easy to be optimistic about where the Red Sox are at with the way Sale threw. There was a certain freedom the rest of the Red Sox seemed to play with by just having Sale around — for someone so intense, it’s clear he has a calming presence.

If Boston is going to stay in a wild card spot and even compete for the division, it needs to be getting a chance to win every night from the starters. Sale is showing he can provide that. Nathan Eovaldi and Nick Pivetta have been doing that all season, and so too has Tanner Houck for the most part when he’s in the big leagues. Eduardo Rodriguez has been erratic, but has turned in some sharp showings.

The Red Sox have treaded water long enough with their rotation. This seems like the five guys they’ll roll with going forward, and that’s not a bad group to go to battle with.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale
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