Sale's Uber career on hold after solid Braves debut

March 31st, 2024

PHILADELPHIA -- drove approximately 1,200 miles per week as he went back and forth from his Naples-area home to the Braves’ North Port, Fla., complex during Spring Training.

“I was basically driving from my house to Connecticut once a week,” Sale said. “My Uber career is calling when I’m done, and I believe I should be a five-star ride.”

If Sale’s season debut was an indication of how the rest of this season will unfold, there’s no reason for him to begin planning his ride-share career. The veteran left-hander showed his great intensity as he pitched effectively into the sixth inning of the Braves’ 5-4 loss to the Phillies on Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

“I love the intensity,” third baseman Austin Riley said. “From a position player standpoint, you love to play behind those kinds of guys. He’s in every pitch and he’s super competitive. There’s not much more you can ask for. You like what you saw from him today.”

Atlanta was positioned for a sweep until Aaron Bummer surrendered four straight two-out hits in Philadelphia’s three-run seventh. It looked like Bummer got Johan Rojas to ground into an inning-ending double play that would have preserved Atlanta’s 3-2 lead. But a replay review reversed the initial ruling of Rojas being out at first base. Kyle Schwarber followed with the first of four straight singles against Bummer.

Not getting the sweep might not be all bad. The Phillies won the 2007 National League East after being swept by the Braves to open the season. The Braves won the NL East after being swept by the Phillies to begin both the 2019 and '21 seasons.

“It was a dogfight,” Sale said. “Sometimes, you win, and sometimes, you lose. It just happened to be that we were on the bottom side today. You like to see that fight throughout the whole game. What more can you ask for, winning a road series, the first one out of the gate.”

While the result of the series finale might have been disappointing, the Braves had plenty of reason to be encouraged by Sale, who allowed two runs on five hits and two walks while tallying seven strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings. This marked just the 10th time since the start of 2020 that the injury-plagued hurler recorded an out in the sixth inning.

Manager Brian Snitker was pleased to see what Sale did just one day after the bullpen was taxed when Max Fried recorded only two outs in the shortest outing of his career.

“He just kept competing,” Snitker said. “I was really impressed.”

Sale gained an immediate lead when Ozzie Albies hit a two-run, first-inning homer for the second straight day. Schwarber responded with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the first. But a Nick Castellanos fourth-inning single and an Alec Bohm sixth-inning single accounted for the only other batted balls with an exit velocity of at least 100 mph against Sale.

The Phillies put two on with nobody out in the second inning, but they didn’t score again until the fifth, when light-hitting Cristian Pache walked before Rojas was hit with a slider as he attempted to bunt with two on and nobody out. Sale responded to the bases-loaded threat by getting Schwarber to ground into a double play, which produced the second and final run he allowed.

“It’s a dogfight; that’s we sign up for,” Sale said. “It’s never going to be pretty. If you think you’re going to go out there and just cruise through and be perfect all the time, it’s going to be a tough road.”

Sale’s performance provided a glimpse of why the Braves were willing to gamble on his health when they acquired him from the Red Sox in December. The southpaw finished in the top six of American League Cy Young Award voting seven straight years (2012-18), but recovery from Tommy John surgery and multiple other injuries (fractured rib cage, fractured right wrist and left shoulder inflammation) limited him to 151 innings from 2020-23.

How long Sale remains healthy and effective remains to be seen. But he was injury-free over the final two months last season, and a normal offseason has given him a chance to enter 2024 feeling better than he has at any point this decade.

Sale’s desire to win was witnessed via the fire he displayed while being removed during Sunday’s sixth inning. He handed the ball to Snitker, covered his mouth with his glove and delivered a strong “Let’s win this,” message to the infielders surrounding him on the mound.

“You love to hear that kind of stuff,” Riley said. “He’s pulling for us, and he cares about the team.”

The early results have been encouraging, but Sale is among those who understand it’s far too early to be celebrating. He has plenty left to prove as he attempts to reclaim his place among the game’s elite.

“No confetti gets thrown in March,” Sale said. “We’ve still got a long way to go.”