BOSTON -- When it comes to the early-season struggles of ace Chris Sale, Red Sox manager Alex Cora suggests that people stop fixating on the radar gun and examine what he thinks is the real issue.
For many years, the general belief is that Sale has been the proud owner of the best slider in the game. That has not been the case in his first three starts of this season, during which the lefty has gone 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA.
“I think the offspeed pitch is the one that, he’s not consistent with it,” said Cora. “Everyone talks about the fastball, but for me, it’s the slider. It’s the best slider in the game, and right now it’s not that. You see flashes, but it’s not as consistent as usual. I think he’s going to get it, and he’s going to take off.”
Statcast backs up Cora’s belief.
Last season, Sale had a 44.4 percent whiff rate on his slider. Through three starts this year, it is just 28.6 percent.
Looking at the putaway stat -- which is the percentage of strikeouts a pitcher has gotten on a specific pitch with two strikes -- is equally telling.
So far this season, Sale’s slider has just an 11.8 percent putaway rate. Last year, it was 31.7 percent.
“There’s a lot of conversations, a lot of stuff that information-wise we got from that day here. At home, you can gather more information than on the road,” said Cora. “We should be fine. We’ve been talking about it, meeting about it, and the next few days, throwing-wise and bullpen-wise, hopefully we can clean a few things up and for the next one, he’ll be in the right place.”
The Red Sox continue to be in frequent communication with Sale. After Tuesday’s frustrating home opener, in which Sale went just four innings, he huddled in Cora’s office for a chat that also included team owner John Henry and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. Sale was busy getting ready for his start on Tuesday, so he didn’t participate in the ring ceremony. Henry, Dombrowski and Cora had his boxed gift waiting for him in that meeting after the game.
“Gave him a World Series ring with Mr. Henry and Dave,” said Cora. “He said, ‘Well, I got something positive today.’ It was good to get him that ring. Talked to him today and we’ll work on it this week, and he’ll be ready for his next start. We expect the results to be better.”
Sale’s next start will be on Tuesday night for the opener of a two-game series at Yankee Stadium.
Prior to Thursday’s game, three Red Sox players were recognized in an on-field ceremony for the awards they won last season.
Mookie Betts received his Silver bat (for winning the American League batting title), and the Silver Slugger Award trophy for AL right fielders. Both came from Louisville Slugger. Betts also received the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award, and his Rawlings Gold Glove Award.
Not panic time
Prior to Thursday’s game, Cora said he had yet to have a team meeting to address the team’s early-season struggles. He also didn’t sound ready to do a number on the clubhouse spread.
“We talk every day,” said Cora. “We have our position players’ meeting on a daily basis to talk about the starter. You talk a little bit, but it’s not like the rah-rah, here we go, Lou Piniella-style. There’s no spread [throwing] after the game. We’ll be fine, man. It’s 3-9. We know where we’re at. We understand where we’re at. Don’t get me wrong. But stay the course and we’re going to be OK.”