BOSTON -- Though lefty ace Chris Sale created some concern with a dip in velocity and some command problems on Wednesday in his final start of the regular season, manager Alex Cora is confident the fix is a relatively manageable one that has nothing to do with health.
Instead it has everything to do with the extension Sale isn't getting on his pitches.
"It's a big difference with him. Think about him extending, regardless of the velocity, it's a different angle, and with him and the kid from Tampa, [Blake] Snell, they are the most uncomfortable angle from the left side in the big leagues," said Cora. "So when he can create that -- it's more with the fastball, actually -- it comes, that fastball up, it's a late decision, and you don't see it well.
"Obviously, the slider has been playing lately. Even though the velocity is not where it was in the summer, it becomes a lot better. We'll see where we are with that. Obviously, we expect him to fix it and be ready for October."
Though Cora hasn't officially announced his rotation for the American League Division Series, it's a certainty Sale will pitch Game 1 at Fenway Park on Oct. 5 against either the Yankees or Athletics.
Could the lack of extension have something to do with the issues in Sale's left shoulder that put him on the disabled list twice in the second half of the season?
"I don't feel that's the reason," said Cora. "We've been talking about it the whole time, and we don't feel it's the shoulder. His mechanics were way off in the first outing [back from the DL]. They got better, then all of a sudden, last one it wasn't there, but we don't feel it has anything to do with the shoulder."
Roster decisions down to precious two
With one week before the start of the Division Series, Cora is pretty set on his roster, and confirmed that he'll go with 11 pitchers and 14 position players.
Two decisions loom, both with the pitching staff.
The following pitchers are all but set: Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Craig Kimbrel, Steven Wright, Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes.
That leaves two spots open for a pool that includes Joe Kelly, Richard Hembree, Brandon Workman, Bobby Poyner, Christopher Johnson and Thomas Pomeranz.
Sale, Price and Porcello are definites for the rotation. The fourth slot will go to either Eovaldi or Rodriguez, and it could be dependent on the opponent.
The Red Sox will have four days off between the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason. Cora has some ideas on how to keep his players fresh, leaning on the experience he gained last year as bench coach for the Astros.
The team will take Monday off, then hold workouts at Fenway Park from Tuesday through Thursday.
"I think it's more about live BP, we'll go that way. I looked at last year and I know what we did," said Cora. "It worked. For whatever experience I have as a manager, I had to map it out last year, that was my job, and that team came out swinging the bat well from the get-go. I'm comfortable with what I'm thinking about doing, so it's just a matter for them. Not everybody likes live BP, we'll see how the weather is during the week. I'm comfortable with what I have in mind."
Part of the ramp-up will include players taking hacks inside against the high-velocity pitching machine.
"One thing they did last year was use a batting machine at a high velocity to keep their hands going, which we do here anyway. So we'll probably see that," Cora said. "It's something we've done throughout the year, and they like it. We crank it up out there to 100, 110, whatever it is, and they go at it. So probably we'll do that."
Nunez is back
Eduardo Nunez, who has battled nagging injuries to both of his legs over the last couple of weeks, was back in the lineup at DH on Friday in his first start since Sept. 19.
Nunez is likely to play in the field in Sunday's regular-season finale. Cora has been extra conservative with Nunez to avoid the type of breakdown the infielder had in Game 1 of the 2017 Division Series, when he re-injured his right knee in his first at-bat and had to be taken off the roster.
"First of all, we've got to see if Nuney is healthy. That's the most important thing," said Cora. "We do feel that he's going to be fine. I just don't want a situation like last year, what the team went through last year. I saw it first-hand, how we felt about it. It didn't change the series, because I think Hanley [Ramirez] did an outstanding job. He ended up playing. But it's not easy to lose a guy just like that. We'll make sure that he's healthy."