Spring Starts Not a Concern for Chris Sale
By Jason Mastrodonato
FORT MYERS -- The radar gun rarely tells the whole story, but with Chris Sale’s progression this spring, the lower velocity readings could be more important than the high ones as he looks to slowly build up strength for the regular season.
With much of the Red Sox’ coaching staff and front office behind the cage watching, Sale tossed three innings against minor leaguers in a simulated game on Monday morning. He struck out five, walked one and hit one batter while allowing three hits.
Perhaps most importantly, his fastball sat at 91-93 mph -- 3 to 5 mph lower than his regular season average a year ago -- and held throughout the three innings of work.
Sale said he’s trying hard not to let himself throw with 100 percent power every time he takes the mound, something that’s been difficult for him in the past. When he returned to face the Orioles last August after two weeks on the disabled list, he averaged 98 mph, one of his hardest-throwing games of the season, but was placed back on the disabled list shortly afterward.
“Yeah, (pitching coach Dana LeVangie) came up to me today and was like, ‘We’re going to let you know, in terms of miles an hour, just to see so you don’t break over a threshold,’” Sale said. “You don’t want to go from 20 to 110 (percent). I think you have to hit every step. That’s mainly what we’re focusing on is the build-up. You go from 20 to 30 to 40 and so on. You just don’t want big gaps in between there.”
That’s one reason the Red Sox prefer the simulated games over the spring training games. They can control the intensity and workload, routinely telling the umpire to stop the inning after Sale reaches 15 pitches.
He said he doesn’t care if he pitches in any Grapefruit League games.
“I know once I step on the mound, regular season game, it’s going to be the same as usual,” Sale said. “I don’t want to sound like an old man, but I’ve done this a few times so I’m not too worried about once the lights flick on. I know what I’m capable of. Once the adrenaline starts coming, any process is thrown out the window and it’s go-time.”
The shoulder injury, one that’s been explained as merely “inflammation” and purposely void of detail to protect Sale’s privacy at his request, stopped being a concern for Sale around Thanksgiving of last year.
“We’ve been full-go since I started throwing, honestly,” he said. “I think we started throwing right around December, late-November, just after Thanksgiving. It was kind of a non-issue because we knew what it was before, we knew what we were dealing with. Needed some time to take off, got the time to take off, and now we’re rolling again.”
Once again, Sale and the Red Sox are hoping they found a slower acceleration program that’ll keep him healthy and effective late in the year.
“I think that was addressed in the off-season with the training program, the shoulder program, throwing program,” he said. “This was a full-circle offseason for me with lifting, running and training room stuff. I think all those things were the build-up to where we are now, and I think that’ll hopefully get us over the hump during the year and toward the end of the year.”
The next step for Sale is another game in five days, though it’s yet to be decided if that’ll be on the main field or against minor leaguers again.
As an aside, Sale was asked about Steven Wright’s 80-game suspension for violating the performance enhancing drug policy. Sale has been outspoken against PEDs in the past and frequently wears a shirt that says “All me, PED-free.”
“It’s tough,” Sale said. “I don’t want to get into it. It’s obviously a matter between us. But, yeah, it’s something that we didn’t see coming. It happened. There’s nothing you can do about it. We wish we could change it but it is what it is. You roll with the punches and keep moving.
“We’re a group. We win together and lose together. When things go bad it’s all on us. It’s something we didn’t want to have to worry about, but at the end of the day there’s no going back on it. We just put one foot in front of the other, try to make right by it and keep moving.”