For all the gratifying daily events that have been taking place for the Red Sox of late, one of the most important developments is happening behind the scenes in Fort Myers, Fla.
That is where Chris Sale is taking a subtle yet important step in his rehab from Tommy John surgery.
“He's throwing. He's getting off the mound, it's a couple of times a week right now, and definitely a shorter number of throws, but he's on the mound as part of a throwing program,” said Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush. “And he's building up strength and building up intensity. Where he is today, I'm not exactly sure, but he's definitely on the mound and building up and he feels really good about it.”
Sale is close to crossing that threshold from rehabbing pitcher to a pitcher who is in a more classic Spring Training build-up type of mode.
“It's a really important step for him to be able to get on the mound, and as he said, he feels like a pitcher again,” said Bush. “That's a really big step, that he feels like he's getting close and he's going to be a part of the team sometime soon.”
The Red Sox have been one of the most surprising teams in baseball the first seven weeks of the season. To get Sale back in the fold could be a major boost for the stretch run.
Whitlock’s struggles part of the process
Rule 5 Draft pick Garrett Whitlock was perhaps the best story of April for the Red Sox, not allowing a run in six appearances covering 13 1/3 innings.
But Whitlock hasn't been the same in May, giving up at least one run in four of six outings entering action on Sunday.
“There’s a bunch of things at play with Garrett,” said Bush. “As you said, he’s been hurt [in the past], he hasn’t pitched above Double-A, missed the whole year last year, this is his first time in the big leagues, and [he] had a great first month of the year. I’m sure better than any of us or he ever expected.
“A nice problem to have, but I think he’s also dealing with some of the reality now [that] when you’re in the big leagues, you’re going to have stretches that are not great. It’s Major League Baseball, it’s tough, the highest level in the world. He is learning on the fly.
“I think this is normal, it’s part of his development and he’s figuring out what it takes for him as a pitcher to be ready to go every day, how to deal with the frustration and disappointment of a tough outing, how to come back from it, how to stay on the mound and compete. So all those things are part of his personal and professional growth.”
Analytics switch has helped Bogaerts, Devers
If you think shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers have looked sharper on defense the last few weeks, you are right. And manager Alex Cora divulged an interesting reason that has likely led to some of the improvements.
“Yeah, I do believe both of them have been a lot better. We got information,” said Cora. “It seems like we’re inducing the opposition to weak contact, to slow ground balls. Slow ground balls are 80 miles per hour or less. And it's not that we were having trouble turning them into outs, it’s just like swinging bunts and they got base hits and all of that.
“Before Baltimore [May 7-10], we were turning those ground balls into outs only 65 percent of the time. Since Baltimore, we got together with the information department, Carlos [Febles] and Ramón [Vázquez], they made an adjustment. We recognize who’s hitting soft ground balls from the opposition, and we’ve adjusted our defense, we move them up with those guys. And since Baltimore, we’re turning those ground balls into outs 82 percent of the time.
“So it's a combination of everything. You know, we can talk about defensive runs saved or analytic department or information department -- it’s teamwork. And since we made that adjustment, they’re turning those ground balls into outs and you can see the results.”
Getaway rest day
For Sunday’s finale of this six-game road trip, Cora rested Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez. This was an opportunity to get those players two straight days off their feet, because the Red Sox don’t play on Monday.
Cora initially thought about starting Martinez. But without use of the DH in Philadelphia, that would have meant three straight days in the outfield for Martinez.
In addition, Alex Verdugo was also out of the lineup for the second straight day as he recovers from tightness in his left hamstring that forced him to exit Friday’s game early.