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Sale K's 5, touches 96 mph in sharp debut

Confident in 'command,' lefty yields one run over four frames
Special to MLB.com

JUPITER, Fla. -- For the first time in 2018, Chris Sale worked with a runner on base. After managing a pair of quick outs to open Friday's 5-4 loss to the Marlins, the Red Sox ace gave up a lashing line drive from Starlin Castro to right field. In his Grapefruit League debut, Sale gathered himself.

The starting pitcher worked a pair of strikes against Justin Bour and then reared back. The lefty cranked a fastball by the Marlins first baseman. The radar at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium flashed 96 mph. Sale left his first inning of big league camp work unscathed.

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JUPITER, Fla. -- For the first time in 2018, Chris Sale worked with a runner on base. After managing a pair of quick outs to open Friday's 5-4 loss to the Marlins, the Red Sox ace gave up a lashing line drive from Starlin Castro to right field. In his Grapefruit League debut, Sale gathered himself.

The starting pitcher worked a pair of strikes against Justin Bour and then reared back. The lefty cranked a fastball by the Marlins first baseman. The radar at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium flashed 96 mph. Sale left his first inning of big league camp work unscathed.

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"We kind of had to change it up a little bit after that," Sale said after the game. He had almost been too good. Boston scheduled the lefty to go four innings or 60 pitches, and touching the high 90s with his fastball ran counter to his new approach this season.

March is nearly a third of the way over, and Sale is only now making starts. In January, the American League Cy Young Award hopeful unveiled his new preseason plan. He, manager Alex Cora and pitching coach Dana LeVangie decided to ramp Sale up slower than usual. He'd wait an extra week or so to make his debut against big league hitting and make sure not to throw at maximum effort until even later.

Tweet from @RedSox: It���s a beautiful sight.#SaleDay pic.twitter.com/kB21WzTNOD

Sale debuted the first results of his new approach in front of 5,017 spectators, and he was as good as the Red Sox could have hoped. Sale worked a variety of pitches and whiffed two more hitters during the second inning, then another two during the third. He left after throwing 58 pitches, 41 for strikes, in four mostly dominant innings. He delivered 17 pitches out of the strike zone, but only eight before the fifth. With five strikeouts and only two hits allowed, Sale pitched Boston to an early 2-1 lead before retreating to the clubhouse.

"We're basically right where we wanted to be," Sale said. "Good workload. I felt good."

Sale's first three innings were nothing less than dominant. Only the first-inning hit made it beyond the infielders, and he struck out batters more often than he allowed any sort of hard contact. A 79-mph slider left outfielder Cameron Maybin chasing for Sale's second strikeout of the game during the second inning before the lefty broke out his 86-mph changeup to lock up third baseman Brian Anderson and end the frame.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

In the third inning, Sale went back to his fastball for strikeout No. 4 against infielder Miguel Rojas. He then broke out perhaps his most devastating pitch of the day. Sale whipped an 80-mph slider across the plate to Lewis Brinson. The outfielder lunged and wound up with his left knee planted on the ground as he succumbed to Sale's fifth and final strikeout. After three innings, Sale sat at 32 pitches with 24 strikes and only eight balls.

"We got the work in that we were looking for," Sale said. "I'm mixing in all my pitches. I felt good. I felt like I had good command today, which is a nice positive early in spring."

The natural fatigue which comes with rust reared itself during Sale's final inning of work. Derek Dietrich ripped a double down the right-field line to open the fourth inning and came around to score after two flyouts. Sale mitigated the damage, though, getting catcher Tomas Telis to line out to center to end the inning after allowing only the one baserunner.

It's too early, of course, to determine whether the Red Sox's plan will work, but Sale passed the first test without much difficulty.

"His stuff is unreal," Cora said. "He's in that elite level, and the fact that he accepted what we want him to do is great, because he understands that this is not 162 games. What we're shooting for, he might have to pitch until November."

David Wilson is a contributor to MLB.com.

Boston Red Sox, Chris Sale