(Portland ME) It’s been nearly two years since Chris Sale last pitched at the major league level.
He needed surgery (Tommy John) and he had it. Then the lengthy process to get back with the Red Sox and contribute began.
In the early weeks and months, it was easy to wonder if he would ever pitch again. Many of us lost track of him.
Lose track of him no more. He is back and his chances of helping the first-place Red Sox are beginning to seem like a real possibility.
This afternoon Chris pitched for the first-place Portland Sea Dogs. It was his third rehab effort in game conditions.
“Today was good,” said Chris afterwards. “I don’t think that I was quite as consistent, however, with all my pitches. All of my mistakes and misfires today caught too much zone.”
Today’s opponent was the Harrisburg Senators. Chris faced the same team on Tuesday.
“On Tuesday, when I would make a bad pitch, they were more on the outside of the plate,” he said. “If I made a bad pitch today it was in the middle of the plate, and they obviously capitalized on it. They came out swinging.”
In 3 2/3 innings Chris gave up six hits to go with nine strikeouts.
The Sea Dogs ended up winning, 6-5, on a walk-off hit by Devlin Granberg.
Portland was ahead when Chris finished. He noted that in the during-the-game press conference: “We’re still ahead. The point of this is winning the game. We’re on track.”
Chris downplayed pitch velocity as too important so far. “I threw a couple of 4’s and 5’s which is good for me. Velocity is not the Number One thing on my list when I’m going out there to pitch. That’ll take care of itself.”
Credit Harrisburg. This is a 25-46 team, in last place, that Chris held hitless on Tuesday. Today they came out hacking and making some contact.
Osvaldo Duarte (ninth in the Harrisburg batting order) had a career day with three hits. Two of them were off Chris who praised Osvaldo for his at-bats against him.
“He put a really good swing on that changeup (442-foot homer). In his last at bat (double), I threw him a 1-1 fastball right off the plate. He did exactly what he’s supposed to do: He took it the other way and didn’t try to do too much.”
The best part of Chris’s afternoon, in my opinion, was the third inning. After Osvaldo’s homer tied the score, the Senators quickly had runners on first and third with no outs. Big inning? Chris would have none of it. It was almost as if he was on as the closer in the World Series. (Who can forget that performance!) He mixed pitches and pounded the zone and Harrisburg couldn’t score.
“I had to pitch out of some stuff,” said Chris. “It was actually a good situation for me to be in. It’s the time when your back is up against the wall. Between the catcher (Ronaldo Hernandez) and I, we worked through that pretty well.”
Chris said that he threw more changeups today than he did on Tuesday. “One of those changeups got hit pretty far,” he laughed. “That pitch is one that I’ve got to get back on top of. It was a good pitch for me a while ago and I need to refine it a little bit more and have some confidence in throwing it.”
Reading about Chris and listening to him this afternoon, I think that the part of the rehab that pleases him the most is the time between starts. “My in-between days have been locked in for a while,” he said. “It’s been a bright spot. I’ve gotten into a better routine to know what my arm, body, and mind need in the days between starts. Even the first couple of days after a start I’m bouncing back pretty good. Just got to keep it rolling.”
“Rolling” is certainly what the Sea Dogs are doing. They have now won eighteen of their last nineteen games. They own the best record (45-24) in Double A. Players get called up to Worcester. Players are missing because they’re in the Olympics. Nothing changes. The team keeps winning.
This is what Chris Sale had to say about being with the Sea Dogs this week: “I love this team. They asked me if I wanted to go back to Boston in between starts and I said, ‘Absolutely, not!’ I wanted to stay here. This is fun for me. I appreciate these guys letting me be part of the team. They’ve had something going for a few months now. They made me feel welcome. This is a gritty team. They’re very talented. These guys swing the bat about as well as anybody I’ve ever seen. I’ve been talking a lot with the pitching staff bouncing ideas off; arm angles, pitch sequences etc.. Just pitching stuff. I’ve appreciated how they’ve let me walk into their house and hang out for a week.”
The soggy weather delayed the start of the game for fifty minutes. That sure helped me because I hesitated to even come because of the rainy forecast. I arrived at 1:15 thinking I was late but soon happily realized that I was early.
Very attentive crowd. The need for entertainment, other than baseball, was minimal. Not too many kids in the crowd. Most attending were adults who saw a chance to watch one of baseball’s best pitchers closeup and took it. I was one of them!
Thanks, as always, to Chris Cameron for the arrangements he made on my behalf.
The Sea Dogs are home for six games with New Hampshire starting Tuesday. They are well worth a look.
Chris Sale will probably get a start in Worcester (AAA) this week. I wish him the best.
(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)