Sale happy with stuff despite 5 walks in Triple-A start

July 7th, 2022

WORCESTER -- Call it wacky Wednesday in the Red Sox’s system.

The top pitching prospect was at Fenway Park while the seven-time All-Star took the mound at Triple-A Worcester’s Polar Park. If Chris Sale has his way, Wednesday’s latest rehab outing will have been just a temporary rest stop along the Mass Pike on his way back to Boston, even if the results weren’t exactly there.

Sale allowed one earned run on three hits and five walks while fanning five over 3 2/3 innings for Worcester in a 4-2 loss against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Sale, however, was unhappy with his performance, to say the least. The 33-year-old was caught on camera taking out his frustration on some hanging items in the clubhouse before walking back to the dugout.

The southpaw, who is returning from a rib cage stress fracture and hasn’t seen the Majors this season, threw 72 pitches, 42 of which were strikes.

It marked the first time he issued five or more free passes in an outing at any level since May 19, 2019, in a Red Sox game against the Astros.

“A blip on the radar,” Sale said. “I know this is a big deal. I know people are going to look very deep into this and dissect this 100 ways to midnight. For me, if my stuff's there and I have just an outlier, that's kind of what this was.”

Sale said he came away pleased with the quality of his pitches, adding there may have been a little extra juice following an extra day of rest since his rehab start last Thursday for Double-A Portland. He touched 97 mph on the first pitch of the game before settling into the 93-96 range with his heater. Six of his 13 whiffs on the night came on his fastball, and he had five more on the 77-80 mph slider and two on his mid-80s changeup.

However, while the velocity and action on the pitches were there, Sale felt the command wasn’t, leading to the five free passes.

“Just inconsistent at all of them,” Sale said. “I had the best fastball, the best slider and the best changeup -- just not consistently. One in five pitches was, ‘Hey, that one was good.’ That's not going to fly in the big leagues. I need to clean that up, obviously, this next week in the bullpen. I'm excited for that task.”

Before the outing, WooSox manager Chad Tracy said Sale was scheduled to go 65 pitches over four or five innings. The starter reached 66 pitches with two outs in the fourth, prompting a meeting with pitching coach Paul Abbott, who told Sale he had a hard out at 70. Sale remained in the game after a brief discussion but needed six offerings to walk David Freitas on a changeup with the bases loaded, thus forcing his exit.

Sale’s immediate next steps will be to focus on regaining his command, specifically by staying on his backside in his delivery and smoothing out his direction toward the plate.

“It’s almost better that this happened in some weird way, because now I know what I have to work on,” said Sale. “I know what my miscues are. If the ball’s coming out hot and I walk five freaking guys, it's mechanics, it’s direction and staying back, those things. If I was coming out here throwing not sharp [with my] velo down, then we'd have some more questions. But like I said, stuff was there. I just had to corral it and couldn’t.”

The Sox and Sale haven’t announced where his next appearance will be. There was some hope that Sale’s rehab outing Wednesday would line him up to face the Rays in Tampa Bay next week, giving him his first Major League start since Oct. 3. However, the club could decide it wants to see Sale’s command return before giving that green light, adding to his pitch total in another rehab appearance.

Sale, for his part, was mum on the immediate plan on Wednesday.

“Not going to tell you guys that,” he said. “Keep that a secret.”

He did say, however, that he feels like he could move past these one-off struggles if the big club needs his services.

“I'm very ready,” Sale said. “Like I said, I know today was a little bit of a hiccup, but there's nothing that can't be ironed out.”

Sale’s abbreviated outing came on the same day that Red Sox top pitching prospect Brayan Bello made his Major League debut against the Rays about 45 miles to the east. The 23-year-old right-hander’s arrival brought a new level of excitement to a club that is very much in the American League Wild Card race. The pairing wasn’t lost on one 2018 World Series champ either.

“I was a little upset with [Alex Cora] because I told him, ‘At least push him back so I can see it live,” Sale said. “But there are a lot of good things. We’ve got a lot of good positive energy going. Obviously, [it’s a] great group of guys, a good staff. So I just want to be a part of it. I want to get back to doing my job and pulling my weight.”