Sale, Cora look beyond stats from 'good, terrible' start

Health, length paramount as lefty gets late-spring look at early April foe

March 21st, 2023

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Rule No. 1 when it comes to an established veteran starting pitcher in Spring Training. Don’t look at the linescore. 

You would have been misled if you checked out ’s line (five innings, nine hits, six runs, one walk, two strikeouts) in Tuesday's 6-2 loss to the Orioles and tried to read too much into it.

The truth is that Sale stretching out to five innings and 70 pitches while sitting in the mid 90s with his fastball meant more than the lefty getting touched up by a solid offensive team.

“Overall, a good step in the right direction,” said Sale, who gave up homers to Adley Rutschman and Ryan Mountcastle in the first inning.

“It was a weird one. They put the ball in play and it just seemed to fall. You know, it's gonna happen. In a way, it's almost good to get that out of the way, try to be in some tough situations and have to be out there feeling like I felt and getting through it. So just a good, terrible start in a way.”

Sale always finds a unique way to describe his outings -- good or bad.  In this case, "good, terrible" was perfect.

“You want to go through these here, because when those bright lights flick on, it's a tougher situation to get through those,” Sale said. 

Red Sox manager Alex Cora had no issues with Sale’s performance. In fact, he was enthused by what he saw from the seven-time All-Star, who is just one more healthy Spring Training start away from breaking camp with the team -- instead of on the injured list -- for the first time since 2019.

“Good. Really good,” said Cora. “Obviously results apart, [he gave up the] two homers, but after, it was a ground ball, two bleeders, we didn’t make the plays behind him but it felt like he could have gone [to] the sixth inning if he wanted to. The velo was good. I think the changeup is playing.”

The one thing Sale didn’t have was a pitch that has been so reliably dominant for him through his career: the slider.

“My slider, my front side is just a little lost with that one right now. Again, it's a good thing to try to go out there and figure that out as well,” said Sale.

The way Cora looked at it, maybe it’s a good thing Sale didn’t have his vintage slider. Keep in mind that Sale will face these same Orioles again, likely on April 1 at Fenway in the second game of the regular season. 

“He didn’t throw a good one, so that's good,” Cora said. “Hopefully, when he faces them again, he has a good slider and we can cruise through.”

While some pitchers might have balked at facing a team late in Spring Training that they would face again to open the regular season -- Curt Schilling wouldn’t face division opponents through all of camp -- Sale didn’t mind at all.

“Yeah, I mean, that's our life,” said Sale. “It’s, you know, ‘They hit me, I hit you’ and we try to figure it out through the whole year from start to start. Especially when you're facing the same team. This one, they got me. Next one, we  go to the drawing board and figure out what to do and see some things that happened and make some adjustments. That's what this game is, you know, adjustments. So that one’s on me to do.”

For Sale, this spring has been exclusively about being healthy again and staying that way.

The Red Sox are firmly confident that if Sale takes the mound every fifth day, the rest of it will take care of itself.

“Yeah, he’s been good. This guy, he knows what he needs to do,” said Cora. “Just like [Corey] Kluber. Kind of like, they want to work on a few things in the outing and go from there and both of them are ready to go.”

Sale’s final start of Spring Training will be Sunday against the Twins. Then it is on to the regular season, which he hopes will be his healthiest in years.