Sale's confidence growing after facing hitters

February 22nd, 2024

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- ’s sense of humor seems to validate that he truly is feeling good about the upcoming season.

“I’m happy with where I’m at and I’m happy with where we’re going,” Sale said. “I’m just excited to keep this thing going and [trying] not to mess it up.”

This sarcastic conclusion seems to confirm that Sale’s psyche has remained strong as he spent far too much of the past four seasons on the injured list. His Hall of Fame candidacy was certainly tarnished during these lost seasons, but at 34, the veteran lefty still has time to enjoy some productive seasons.

“This is the most [confidence] I’ve had in six years,” Sale said.

Sale’s confidence grew early Thursday afternoon, when he threw live batting practice at CoolToday Park. The lanky left-hander benefited from a chance to make all of his normal preparations during a healthy offseason, so there might have been a little extra excitement as he faced hitters for the first time this year.

“That’s the first time I’ve thrown a pitch with someone standing in the box,” Sale said. “The motor is going a little bit quicker and there’s a little bit more intensity. So, that’s a good first step.”

There wasn’t really a lot to take away from this short session aimed just to get pitchers ready to begin pitching in games. Sale’s fastball command was inconsistent, but he was happy to consistently get back on track by throwing one of his secondary pitches.

Next time, the fastball command might be better than the command of the secondary pitches. This is all just part of the normal preparations pitchers make, when they aren’t limited by injuries like Sale was throughout this decade’s Spring Trainings.

“I know what my body needs and I know where I need to be around this time of year, stuff-wise and physically,” Sale said. “Again, this was a good day and we’re one step closer.”

The Braves haven’t revealed when Sale will begin pitching in exhibition games. His workload will be monitored closely given he completed just 102 2/3 innings last year. He has totaled 151 innings over the past four years combined.

Whenever Sale was asked if he was feeling good, he would playfully say something like, “Let’s not tell anyone.” In other words, let’s not jinx what is currently a good thing.

This is certainly understandable, given his recent health history.

Sale helped the Red Sox win the 2018 World Series, but his elbow began bothering him late in the 2019 season. He had Tommy John surgery the following year, returned during the latter part of 2021 and then spent the next year riddled with misfortune.

Sale suffered a right rib stress fracture while throwing live batting practice at Florida Gulf Coast University. He fractured a finger when he was hit with a comebacker later that year. Then, while on the injured list, he fell off his bike and broke his wrist.

Just when it seemed like things were moving in the right direction last year, Sale missed two months with a shoulder ailment. But he gained encouragement as he posted a 3.92 ERA in the nine starts he made after rejoining Boston’s rotation in August.

Still, with the Red Sox supplying $17 million in the trade, the Braves were willing to take a $21 million gamble on Sale over the next two seasons. If the veteran lefty remains healthy, the average $10.5 million he’ll draw over the next two seasons could prove to be a bargain.

“I think he’s very excited about being here,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s been to the top of that mountain and his arm feels great. It’s exciting to get a guy like that.”