Surging Sale pushes scoreless streak to 20 straight innings

May 21st, 2024

ATLANTA -- has enjoyed being a Brave, as much as the Braves have enjoyed being the direct beneficiaries of his career resurgence.

“I can't stress enough what this clubhouse is like,” Sale said. “The energy that’s in there, the guys and what everyone brings to the table and just how laid back it is, it’s a lot of fun. It's like going to play college summer baseball, just with brighter lights. Our staff allows us to be who we are and it brings out the best in everybody.”

The baseball world has watched the Braves bring the best out of both Sale and Reynaldo López, a couple of veteran pitchers who have erased offseason concerns while constructing strong All-Star resumes.

Sale extended his scoreless streak to 20 innings while helping the Braves snap a four-game losing streak with a 3-0 win over the Padres in the second game of Monday’s doubleheader at Truist Park. López’s strong start in the first game went to waste when Joe Jiménez’s uncharacteristic struggles led to a 6-5 loss.

“When you’re going like we are, it hasn’t been all that long yet, but it’s just one of those things that happens,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

It might have been just a four-game losing streak, but there was reason for the Braves to exhale after Sale guided them to a win in the nightcap. The losses, combined with Austin Riley’s prolonged absence, Travis d’Arnaud’s concussion scare and three straight sub-five-inning starts, made the skid feel much longer.

Sale helped change the mood as he scattered five hits over seven scoreless innings in Monday’s second game. The 35-year-old hurler has posted a 2.22 ERA through his first nine starts. He has completed at least five innings in every outing and he has worked seven innings in five of his past seven starts.

“I think he expects to be that guy because he has,” Snitker said. “He has been nails.”

d’Arnaud celebrated his return to the lineup by notching three hits and guiding the pitching staff to a shutout. The veteran catcher was playing for the first time since he exited Friday’s game after getting hit in the mask with a foul ball.

His excitement about returning to action grew an hour and 45 minutes before Sunday’s game, when he heard Sale’s pregame tradition of blaring hip hop through the weight room.

“He’s not scared of anybody,” d’Arnaud said. “We were on a little four-game skid. For him to put that to a halt is what a lot of aces do.”

Sale hasn’t allowed a run since the fifth inning of his May 1 start against the Mariners. He has tallied at least nine strikeouts while blanking opponents in each of his past three starts. This is the third time in his career he has logged nine-plus strikeouts while allowing no runs in three or more straight starts. He did so in four straight starts from July 11-Aug. 12, 2018, and in three straight starts from July 15-26, 2017.

“I wouldn’t say I’m all the way satisfied,” Sale said. “There’s a long way to go and I know anything can happen in this game. I just try to stay in the moment. I can appreciate where I’m at and what I’m doing. You don’t want to take it for granted. You want to stay humble, keep your head down and keep working.”

With every start, Sale is silencing those who said he couldn’t get back to where he was before late-season elbow issues in 2019 led to Tommy John surgery. That long recovery was followed by fractures with his right rib and right wrist that led to lengthy injured-list stints.

The Red Sox showed patience, as Sale totaled 151 innings from 2021-23. But they were also willing to send him and $17 million to the Braves in a Dec. 30 trade.

Nearly five months later, the Braves are benefiting from their decision to gamble on Sale’s ability to rebound and López’s ability to make a successful conversion back to a starting role.

López’s ERA actually rose from 1.34 to 1.54 after he allowed two runs over 6 1/3 innings in the first game of Monday's doubleheader. The right-hander has exceeded all expectations the Braves had when they decided to sign him on Nov. 20 and make him a starter for the first time since he struggled in the role for the 2021 White Sox.

“López gave me a fist bump tonight and I said, ‘Hey man, I’m just trying to be just like you,’” Sale said.