WORCESTER — Wednesday night’s rehab start for the Worcester Red Sox didn’t go the way Chris Sale hoped it would. But he’s confident that despite five walks in 3 2/3 innings, he knows what needs to be fixed before he makes his 2022 debut for the Boston Red Sox, whenever that may be.
Sale wouldn’t confirm whether or not Wednesday night’s game would be his last rehab start before rejoining the Boston Red Sox for the first time this season. But when asked if he was ready to get back to the MLB, Sale didn’t waver.
“I’m very ready. I know today was a little bit of a hiccup, but it’s nothing that can’t be ironed out,” Sale said. ,[It was] not good. Decent at times, just command was bad today. Direction was bad. Nothing’s easy in this game, but things that are easier to clean up mechanically.”
Sale’s command was the sole issue on Wednesday. He walked five batters, at least one in every inning, and also struck out five. He gave up three hits, all of which were very soft and only one left the infield.
“I had the best fastball, the best slider and the best changeup tonight, just not consistently,” Sale said. “That’s not going to fly in the big leagues. I need to clean that up, obviously this next week in the bullpen and stuff like that. I’m excited for that task. It was there, I just have to work on the consistency. That’s what I’m here for, to get reps. I just needed it to click, and it never clicked.”
The lefty came out of the gate amped up, hitting 97 mph on the radar gun with his first pitch. His command was off even in the first inning, walking two but getting two infield pop-ups and a weak ground ball behind second for a fielder’s choice out, ending the inning. He worked around a two-out walk in the second, striking out two in the inning.
Sale’s easiest inning was the third. He quickly worked around a leadoff walk, striking out Oswald Pereza and getting Jake Bauers to ground into a tailor-made double play.
The only hits off Sale came in the fourth, his final inning of work. A soft single up the middle was probably the hardest hit ball of the night off Sale that found a hole; most of the contact, even the outs, was weak. He was the victim of some bad luck as Greg Bird barely got a piece of a 2-2 pitch, but put it right where the third baseman would have been, had the WooSox not employed a shift that pulled Ryan Fitzgerald all the way over to shortstop. He struck out Pereza swinging, but another infield hit, this one a ball that Jeter Downs somewhat misplayed, diving when he didn’t have to, loaded the bases.
Sale got Armando Alvarez swinging for the second out, but was up to 66 pitches, right about the limit set. He got a visit from pitching coach Paul Abbott.
“It was at 66. He said I had a hard 70. I said, I guess I got four then,” Sale said. “And obviously it didn’t work out, but hey, we have to follow some guidelines. But at the same time, I’m not really worried about that as much as I am just competing. I’m here to practice at being a big leaguer and getting back to doing this stuff. Like I said, I got some things to clean up, but it’s nothing overwhelming, nothing jarring.”
Sale walked the number nine hitter, David Freitas, bringing in a run. That ended his night.
“I’m not very big on walking guys. That’s never really been my struggle. So if it is a struggle, I know that, hey, I just have to look at stuff, see where that is and clean it out,” Sale said. “That’s where my head’s at. This doesn’t really set me back other than not being able to get more reps. I wish I’d been able to go back out there and pitch for 5, 6, 7, 8, whatever it was.”
Sale was visibly frustrated after a number of balls, but said it was directed toward himself and not the umpire.
“I don’t think he missed a single pitch back there tonight. It was all just frustration,” Sale said. “I walked five guys. I’ve gone months without walking five guys. That just tells me right there that nothing’s wrong. I’ve got some things I have to clean up but it’s nothing that can’t be cleaned up in this next week.”
Physically, Sale said he feels good. It’s a much different place than Sale was in when he came to Polar Park in 2021, rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
“Even guys up in Portland and here are saying, ‘hey, I know today wasn’t great, but comparing this to last year, you’re in the completely different spot.’ Just more confidence in myself and my ability,” he said. “Coming back from a major arm surgery last year, there were a lot of question marks still. This year’s more of just sharpening the sword, not rebuilding it.”
Going forward, Sale’s plan is to clean up the mistakes that plagued him Wednesday night in some off-day work.
“Tomorrow will be a lighter day, but I’m still going to get off the mound. I have to feel that direction out,” Sale said. “Even just dry stuff, dry drills. That helped me out a lot last year when I was kind of searching for stuff. Getting back to basics, doing stuff to help me stay back, really sit onto my backside and just get that direction. It’s when I start leaning a little bit forward, that direction gets off. So I know exactly what I have to do. I knew exactly what I had to do. That’s why I got so frustrated because I get it, you have to fix this, now go fix it.”