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Sale to change speeds, but have same dominance

Red Sox ace fans seven, scatters two hits over five frames
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As much as Chris Sale's epic display of power pitching was fun to watch last season, the lefty seems to be planting the seeds for a far less predictable approach in 2018 -- one that will be every bit as effective but perhaps less taxing on his arm.

Sale was very much a pure pitcher in shredding through the Twins' lineup on Wednesday afternoon while leading the Red Sox to a 2-1 victory at Hammond Stadium.

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As much as Chris Sale's epic display of power pitching was fun to watch last season, the lefty seems to be planting the seeds for a far less predictable approach in 2018 -- one that will be every bit as effective but perhaps less taxing on his arm.

Sale was very much a pure pitcher in shredding through the Twins' lineup on Wednesday afternoon while leading the Red Sox to a 2-1 victory at Hammond Stadium.

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In one sequence, you would see an 87-mph fastball. A pitch or two later, he'd be firing it in at 97. Then he'd mix in one of those nasty sliders. Sale plans on changing speeds a lot more this season, and with all his pitches.

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For just a second, manager Alex Cora was worried about the low velocity readings. But he then saw what his ace was up to.

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"The way he used his fastball, that was impressive, going from 87 to 97," said Cora. "In the beginning, kind of, my heart stopped a little bit. I was like, 'What's going on here?' But he was changing speeds. He has a lot in the tank. You could see it in that [Miguel] Sano at-bat, going from where he was to 97, that was impressive. That stuff today plays any day of the year."

Sale has two more Grapefruit League starts left before he presumably takes the ball on Opening Day against the Rays (Cora still hasn't announced the rotation), but it looks like the lefty is locked in already.

In this one, Sale threw 53 pitches over five innings, allowing two hits and no walks while striking out seven. After that was over, he simulated another inning in the bullpen.

"Today, I was able to change speeds and command the ball," said Sale. "I felt like today was one of my better days overall in terms of my command and throwing strikes. In, out, up, down type of stuff. [Catcher] Sandy [Leon] really just going back to doing what we always do."

In a way, it helped Sale that the two hits he did give up were triples. And they both came with one out. That allowed him to measure himself in the art of getting out of a jam.

After Robbie Grossman's triple in the second, Sale didn't blink, striking out Logan Morrison swinging and Max Kepler looking.

In the fourth, it was Jorge Polanco who had the triple. Sale responded with a strikeout of Sano and a groundout by Grossman.

"You want to be able to get into some sticky situations, I guess, before the regular season starts," said Sale. "And that's what we're here for, we're here to get some work in. You don't want to get to start two or three and be in a bad situation for the first time, so it's good to get the juices flowing and just compete right there."

For Sale, it is all about competing, and it doesn't matter that it's just Spring Training.

"We don't come to Spring Training to mess around," said Sale. "We're trying to get better and we're trying to get in the left column, too. You can practice a lot of things, but practicing winning also helps, too. It will get you in the mindset, and if you show up prepared every day to win, it's a different ballgame."

After years of playing against Sale in the American League Central, J.D. Martinez enjoyed being able to watch his new teammate from left field on Wednesday.

"He's a nightmare on the other side. It's not fun," Martinez said. "He's a horse. It will be fun to play with him."

As impressive as the numbers were in Sale's first season in Boston, including 308 strikeouts, the way the season ended haunted him. Sale wasn't at his best late in regular season or in his Game 1 start against the Astros in the American League Division Series. Everything he's done to this point is with the mind of making it a better ending in 2018.

"Obviously sucking will motivate you," said Sale. "I kind of go into the offseason every year ready to work. That's really when I get after it. You can't really do a heavy leg day or a long run day before a start or you'll be gassed. I have guys that I trust down there. We get after it."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Chris Sale