FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Who could forget Chris Sale announcing his arrival to the Red Sox with authority two years ago when his first pitch in a Grapefruit League game was 96 mph?
The Red Sox were much more comfortable with the way Sale approached his Grapefruit League debut on Saturday, as he fired four sparkling innings (two hits, no walks and seven strikeouts) in a 6-1 win over the Braves.
Sale opened the game with an 89 mph fastball. Most of his fastballs were between there and 92. And he mixed in his offspeed stuff, which looked sharp.
“It’s part of the process,” said Sale. “That’s where we are right now. I think two years ago, when I first came in here, that was probably the hardest I’ve ever thrown in Spring Training. But I had something to prove.”
Sale no longer has anything to prove. The final pitch he threw in 2018 was the one that clinched the World Series for the Red Sox, and Manny Machado had no chance of connecting with it.
What Sale wants to do is stay healthy for the entire season and pitch his best in the biggest games.
Sale was sidelined with inflammation in his left shoulder for much of the second half last season, but was back for the playoffs.
He feels that all systems are go for a healthy 2019. And if that means dialing back a little in March, and perhaps even April, that’s fine.
“It’s one of those things, we have a process,” Sale said. “We have a plan. We know what we’re doing. I’ve said it a million times, I don’t care what the radar gun says, I’m going to go out there and try to find a way to get outs. That’s my job.”
Manager Alex Cora dialed Sale’s workload way back in the early part of Spring Training, which is why he didn’t pitch in a Major League game until Saturday. Sale did start in a Minors game five days ago.
“Good to get out there in a real game, get the juices flowing, adrenaline,” said Sale. “Today was the first day I went through kind of my whole routine, pregame, during the game, all that stuff. It was good.”
Most gratifying to Sale was the way some of his recent mechanical adjustments he’s been working on with pitching coach Dana LeVangie and bullpen coach Craig Bjornson paid off.
“Today was big for me, a big step in the right direction,” Sale said. “I’ve been battling some stuff, me and Dana and CB, with just some delivery stuff, getting back into it, finding the rhythm. So today was big, not only on the work side but also the efficiency side, going out there and throwing strikes and filling up the zone.”
Though Cora wasn’t quite ready to announce an Opening Day starter after Saturday’s game -- that announcement should happen Sunday -- he was impressed by what he saw from Sale.
“Christian [Vazquez] and Dana after they warmed up they said, 'Oh, he’s locked in today,’ and I didn’t even look at the velocity,” said Cora. “I don’t think the velocity means anything today. But the other stuff was good. Slider was good. Changeup was good. Location. He had to finish in the bullpen which is always good. That means he was efficient. You can see the body language. He was feeling good where he’s at so that was a good one for him.”