BALTIMORE -- After another midseason bout with an injury that cost him more than two months, Chris Sale was able to gather himself and cruised across the proverbial finish line on Thursday night at Camden Yards.
Sale finished his 2023 season with three strong starts in a row -- in which he posted a 1.13 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP to go with a .154 opponents batting average.
Pitching against the Orioles on the night they clinched the American League East title, Sale allowed one run over five innings, throwing 69 pitches, in a 2-0 Red Sox loss. There was no reason to push him any further.
“Five innings, let’s get him out of there and ready for next year,” manager Alex Cora said.
And when the 2024 season starts six months to the day of Sale’s final outing of this season, Cora expects the lanky lefty to be his Opening Day starter for the first time since 2019.
“That’s the goal -- for Chris to have that start,” Cora said. “I don't know what the future holds. We know where he’s at contract-wise, but I think he is in the right frame of mind as far as the offseason, and what he wants to do.”
That is music to Sale’s ears.
“It means a lot,” Sale said. “I appreciate that. It gives me something to look forward to other than just being healthy. Not only am I trying to be healthy, I'm trying to build on things. I’m not trying to get to zero by Spring Training.
“I'm trying to build something up. It definitely gives me something to chase this offseason, which is good.”
When you consider Sale’s health history in recent years, there’s a lot that can happen before Opening Day 2024.
Still, it’s interesting to hear Cora strike such an optimistic tone for the 34-year-old.
“That's the plan, right? But we got to be realistic. It hasn't happened in a while,” Cora said. “But, you know, we've seen the last month and a half, his pitchability, his ability to post. I had a great conversation with him a few days ago about how the season went and what we are looking forward to in the offseason.”
Sale lives less than a half hour from Boston’s Spring Training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., which could give him a leg up as he finally enters an offseason in good health.
“I think for me, it's just lower body strength, shoulder strength, and mobility,” Sale said. “I’ve got to get my shoulder stronger, that's for sure. It starts from the top, so I think for me, it's gonna be long-tossing. I just need reps. I need to throw more.”
Sale will take a brief break after the Red Sox’s season ends on Sunday, but he’ll be back at it before long. Cora estimated that Sale will start working out roughly two weeks after the season finale against the Orioles.
Aside from building up his arm, Sale also sounds as if there will be some team building in the Gulf Coast of Florida.
“We’ve got a good group down there,” Sale said. “There’s going to be more guys down there in Fort Myers. A couple of guys are starting to move down there, so I'm excited for getting after it during the week, playing some golf and having some Sunday barbecues with my buddies.”
After making an aggregate 11 regular-season starts between 2020-22, Sale took the ball 20 times for the Red Sox this season, going 6-5 with a 4.30 ERA. In 102 2/3 innings, he had 29 walks and 125 strikeouts, while holding opponents to a .225 average.
The one nuisance was the stress reaction Sale sustained in his left shoulder on June 1 against the Reds.
“I think just being able to finish this year [was big],” Sale said. “I know there was one kind of weird shoulder injury away from me being there the whole year, and I grinded through some things obviously the last couple of months, coming back from that. It taught me a lot.”
Sale’s one wish for next season is not to miss a turn in the rotation.
“Just a healthy offseason. I want to make all my starts next year, that’s the main goal,” Sale said. “Everything falls into place if you make all your starts so I think that’s where it starts, for sure.”