Six Takeaways From Chris Sale’s Latest (Possibly Final) Rehab Start

Sale had an up-and-down outing

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Chris Sale’s latest rehab start on Wednesday did not go as planned.

The Boston Red Sox ace was clearly not at his best, as he struggled to find the strike zone throughout his outing with Triple-A Worcester. Sale finished with one run allowed, three hits, five strikeouts and five walks in 3 2/3 innings against the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

High heat has not gone anywhere
Despite being 33 years old, Sale can still dial it up when the juices are flowing. On the first pitch of the night, the lefty reached 97 mph. He also was able to muster up multiple mid-90s fastballs when needing to attack hitters on challenge pitches.

Sale did not post an impressive box score, but his ability to consistently light up the radar gun throughout his rehab assignments bodes well for his success when he returns to Boston.

Sale did not feature the control he is accustomed to
The five walks tell the story, as does his 58% strike rate. Sale was unable to find a groove at any point. Despite showing flashes of his former self, his outing was an up-and-down experience.

The one good sign? He stayed around the corners. While he missed with much more regularity, he didn’t leave any “mistake pitches” in the middle of the zone.

The slider is still lethal
While Sale did miss with all three pitches, he also showed plenty of confidence in the slider that made him so great. More importantly, he displayed many back-door sliders, which is not only one of the hardest pitches to execute, but one of the biggest reasons he has success versus right-handed hitting.

A year ago, Sale threw his slider 31.5% of the time, with a .158 batting average against and a 32% whiff rate. It would not be surprising for his slider to have similar results this season.

The changeup looked better than last year
Sale was unable to throw his changeup with any kind of consistency upon his return from Tommy John surgery last season. He was forced to become essentially a two-pitch pitcher as his changeup rendered a .444 batting average against.

In his outing on Wednesday, the changeup had plenty of downward movement, which will help the southpaw avoid a lot more bats than a season ago. Sale prioritized his changeup this offseason, and appears to be back on course.

He recorded a 5-1 record with a 3.16 ERA in nine starts (42 2/3 innings) without an effective changeup in 2021. With a ceiling as an ace, he should he have all three pitches working.

There was no hard contact
All three hits allowed by Sale were softly hit singles. The only outs not recorded via punch out were ground balls and infield popups. He kept the ball down and was only hurt by his own inability to locate pitches. When he did find the zone, the RailRiders could not barrel anything up.

Sale failed to get out of the fourth inning
The least encouraging aspect of the entire outing was his inability to get deeper into the game. The Red Sox reportedly wanted Sale to reach five innings in roughly 65-70 pitches. He threw 72 pitches, as mentioned, but only recorded 3 2/3 innings, ending his outing with a bases-loaded walk.

There was plenty of soft contact and waste pitches that prevented him from going deeper, which was disappointing. The question of whether Sale will be allowed to return to Boston to make his next start is now a lot more difficult to answer. Seventy-two pitches is enough volume before a full start, but a huge part of getting ready for a deeper outing is being able to sit down and warm up over and over again without fatigue. Having to ramp up five to seven times is a challenge in itself.

He could be put on a similar pitch count with Red Sox, but they might require another tune-up after a very inconsistent night.

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