PORTLAND, Maine -- What's 6 1/2 feet tall, works in the upper 90s and is about to make an impact on the AL East in the dog days of summer?
Chris Sale faced 12 over 3 2/3 no-hit innings, striking out six and walking one in a scoreless rehab start for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs on Tuesday. His first pitch was measured at 96 mph on the stadium gun. The Red Sox left-hander matched that speed multiple times and topped out at 97.
“It was a good day, definitely a step in the right direction," Sale said. "I felt good throughout the entire game. Even in the third and fourth inning, I felt like I was able to create some arm speed and make pitches when I needed to, which at this stage in the game is key.”
Since Sale last pitched in the Majors on Aug. 13, 2019, he's overhauled his nutrition habits and undergone a lengthy recovery from surgery, but he doesn't think his game has changed.
“My mindset is still the same -- maybe [there are] a couple different things in my delivery to help with consistency, and obviously with the time off I was able to get all that right," he said. "I think I’m just doing some things to help with my consistency overall, but I’m still going to be the same guy.”
Pitching against the Nationals-affiliated Harrisburg Senators in front of a sellout crowd of 7,368 on Tuesday, the 6-foot-6 southpaw threw 49 pitches -- 34 strikes -- and picked off Gage Canning to erase his lone walk. Canning also accounted for the other baserunner Harrisburg managed against Sale when he got aboard on a fielding error by Sea Dogs second baseman Grant Williams with one out in the fourth. The seven-time All-Star punched out Nats first base prospect Aldrem Corredor to put a bow on the appearance.
The outing helped extend a Portland winning streak to 14 games with a 6-3 victory over Harrisburg.
“I definitely was aware of the pressure," Sale said. "I was definitely not going to be the one to come in here and mess that up.”
Sale, who underwent Tommy John surgery last March 30, threw live batting practice on the final day of this June, then struck out five and scattered three hits over three scoreless innings in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League in his first rehab appearance on Thursday, reportedly routinely working around 93-95 mph with his fastball.
“This has obviously been a long road. You can section this off from the time you’re getting your cast off, this month, that month. This is definitely the most fun part for me," Sale said. "This is where I live. I’m not a person that likes getting taken care of and treated and all this other stuff. I like getting after it. The more repetitions I can get at high leverage, and really letting it eat more, the more I’m going to be better from that.”
Sale is scheduled to throw again for Portland on Sunday (on regular rest), but first he'll rejoin the big league club in Boston later this week. Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Wednesday that he was encouraged by the positive reports on Sale following his outing.
"The slider was really good, the fastball, obviously, was up velocity-wise," Cora said. "So everybody is very happy with the way the outing went."
The Red Sox, in the meantime, remain atop the division at 57-38 after being rained out against the Blue Jays in Buffalo, N.Y. on Tuesday.
"For me, being able to sit back and watch what these guys have done, carrying weight, I’m not coming in to save anything," Sale said. "I’m not coming in to do anything. I’m just doing what I do and helping the team. They’ve done this for the bulk of the year up 'til now, and they’ve held it down really well in every aspect. I’m just looking to keep the ball rolling.
“I catch most of the games. I get loud sometimes. Even my wife’s like, ‘What are you hollering at?’ I’m making random noises in the house. My older son’s locked into baseball right now. If we’re not watching the Red Sox, we’re watching another team in the AL, hoping they lose."