SAN DIEGO -- Chris Sale was close to being in a jam Saturday night at Petco Park and his latest strong performance was in danger of a forgettable ending.
But that was when the lefty reached back with his most encouraging three-batter sequence of the night. With each of those three batters representing the potential tying run, Sale got former teammate Xander Bogaerts on a liner to right and then struck out Juan Soto and Nelson Cruz on nasty sliders.
And it appeared Sale’s outing would end there. However, he came back out for the seventh with a machine-like 1-2-3 inning on a night he led the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory over the Padres.
The fact that manager Alex Cora called on Sale to come back out for the seventh even as he had Kutter Crawford warming up during the sixth is a sign of the increased confidence developing in a reemerging ace.
“Good fastball, good slider, good command,” said Cora. “[He] got in trouble there, we let him get out of it and then into the seventh, it was kind of like, get the leadoff guy, and he did. And then get the next guy, and he did, and he finished the inning. But overall, everything he's been working on is paying off and he's in a great spot.”
For Sale, who has worked hard to regain his form after making just two starts last season, escaping trouble and then getting to go back out for the seventh gave him a charge.
“Yeah, it was big time,” said Sale. “You know, the wheels are turning there and it’s obviously a crucial moment in the game. With our bullpen, you can kind of just flip a coin and pick a guy out there to get out of that situation. But [pitching coach Dave Bush] came out, and we kind of reset, got on the game plan.
“And it worked out. Obviously I appreciate getting that leash and then being able to go back for the seventh and get that one too.”
The Red Sox (26-20) have emerged from a four-game losing streak by winning four in a row.
The more relevant streak for Boston’s big picture is that Sale has pitched well in his last four starts, going 3-0 with a 2.30 ERA. Over that span, he’s lowered his ERA from 8.22 to 5.01.
“I feel like I'm trending in a good direction,” said Sale. “I’ve been around here too long to feel like I'm on top of a mountain at all and I’ve still got a lot of work to do. I know where I'm at. I know what I'm doing.”
For now, Sale appreciates the steps he’s taken in recent weeks. The pivotal moment was after his rough start against the Orioles on April 24 when Cora and the pitching department noted some flaws in his mechanics.
The takeaway was that Sale’s delivery had become too robotic. The Red Sox wanted him to look athletic again on the mound. Through hard work in between starts, Sale got there and the results have followed.
“I just feel more normal,” said Sale. “That was kind of the gist of that a few weeks ago was to get back to doing things that made you successful, things that make you feel a bit more comfortable out there. Obviously, I don’t have these beautiful clean mechanics, but when I do the things I need to do, when I hit the spots I need to hit, the end results would be much better.
“We’ve got a team of video guys, an unbelievable coaching staff that's got me back on track and they obviously pointed those things out to me. So again, keep grinding, keep going and see how it shakes out.”
Against San Diego, Sale allowed three hits and two runs, walking one and striking out eight. It was a performance reminiscent of his previous start at Fenway against the Cardinals, when he allowed one run while striking out nine over eight innings.
“I think he's in a good spot,” said Cora. “Early on, there was a game, I think it was the Twins, that he went six, and a lefty was coming up in the seventh. But I didn't feel comfortable sending him out there. Now you feel good about it, understanding that there's going to be an off-day and his next start is Friday.”