Chris Sale’s ‘Slow’ Start A Major Cause For Concern

Red Sox Ace Chris Sale struggled with his fastball velocity last night vs the A's, consistently topping out in the high 80's.

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On Tuesday night Chris Sale turned in the best performance by far of any Red Sox starter this season.

It was also the most concerning.

Sale tossed six innings of three-hit, one-run ball in a 1-0 loss to the Oakland A’s. The numbers however don’t tell the whole tale. Sale’s fastball (which last year averaged over 95 mph) was stuck in the high-80s most of the night.

He struck out only one batter, and induced only six swings and misses all night.

Zero coming on the fastball.

After giving up a first inning home run to Matt Chapman on an 88.8 mph 4-seamer, Sale slowly navigated away from his fastball and began relying more heavily on his his slider and changeup for the rest of the game. Sale threw only 9 four seamers total in innings 3-through-6.

“I’m still just trying to find it,” Sale said when asked about his reduced velocity. “I’m still working on some things with my mechanics. Trying to find my space out there. Just try to get comfortable and find a groove. I think that’s just half the battle with a pitcher. Especially a starting pitcher is finding a groove and getting comfortable. We’re still working, it’s a work in progress. But like I said, there’s no excuse. I’ve got to go out there and find a way.”

Manager Alex Cora also tried to maintain a positive tone – although he was seen talking to trainer Brad Pearson in the second inning as Sale’s fastball velocity remained in the 80’s.

“Honestly, after tonight, I feel better,” Cora told reporters after the game. “It was a game. One nothing, we had a chance. We competed. It’s not that we haven’t been competing but most of the games we were out of it right away.

“I saw 92 mph in the fifth or sixth inning, I mean, he pitched. I try to stay away from the velocity thing. Sometimes you get caught up in it and it’s like, is he going to be alright? But he gave us six. It was different, but he gave us six.”

Regardless of the fact that he only gave up one run, Chris Sale just did not look like the dominant Pedro-esque pitcher that Red Sox fans have gotten to know the past two seasons.

  • Sale threw 25 four-seamers, averaging 89.1 mph, the lowest velocity of any of his 289 career starts.
  • Last night was the second start of Chris Sale’s career where he had less than 2 strikeouts.
  • Sale has back to back walks in multiple games – he went 15 games last year without allowing multiple walks.

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Like Cora, pitching coach Dana LeVangie insisted there’s nothing wrong with the Red Sox ace.

“Zero. Zero concern, Levangie told reporters in Oakland. “Not at all. He dialed it up when he wanted to. It’s there. But he knows how important he is to his team. He can pitch, regardless of the velocity.​

“You guys want him to pitch the whole year or do you want him to go out and throw 100 mph right now and not be there for his team? He’s building. He had a long year last year. He’s building up to be the guy he wants to be. He started last year similar, but we’re getting to that point, but just not right now.”

Sale’s struggles have both short and long term implications. The Red Sox signed him to a 5-year $145 million extension before the season began.

All along, the Red Sox have been saying this is part of the plan – to bring their pitchers along slowly and build them up. It worked last year. But tuesday’s loss dropped the Sox to 1-5, the worst start by a reigning World Series Champion since the 1998 Marlins (they finished with 108 losses).

And after watching Sale not look anything like his dominant self for the first two games of the season it begs the question. Do the Red Sox have a superstar ace locked up for 5 more years? Or do they have a 145 million dollar problem? 🤔