Is Chris Sale's dreadful opening day start a cause for Red Sox concern?
Chris Sale's first start of 2019 looked nothing like any start he made in 2018.
That’s not a good thing for the Boston Red Sox.
Five days after finalizing a five-year, $145 million extension, Boston’s ace was torched by the Seattle Mariners’ rebuilt offense. In just three innings, the veteran left-hander allowed seven earned runs, which matched his previous high with the Red Sox from 2017. The Mariners won the game 12-4.
There were no cheapies in the bunch, either. The Mariners were squaring Sale up, launching three homers, a triple and a double. Tim Beckham did the most damage, smacking a pair of two-run home runs. To put that in some perspective, Beckham came in 0 for 15 against Sale with nine strikeouts.
Giving up multiple home runs put this start in unusual territory for Sale.
When it became three, that put it in a different category entirely.
Sale allowed 11 home runs in 158 innings last season. That was good for a career-best 0.6 HR/9. Clearly, this isn’t a scene Red Sox fans are used to seeing.
Concerns about velocity?
As a result, people are looking for answers as to why Sale was off his game on opening day.
One potential explanation is his noted dip in velocity.
Sale’s first fastball of the game was clocked at 89.9 mph. That caught some people’s attention initially, but was quickly shelved after he struck out the side in the first inning.
His velocity ticked up slightly from there, but not to the level we’re used to seeing.
Sale walked two. More importantly, he missed his spot on several pitches. When he missed, the Mariners made him pay. That will happen to any pitcher against any lineup in any ballpark, especially one as typically pitcher-friendly as T-Mobile Park.
Is there a reason to panic?
Enough to squirm a little bit? Sure. We’ll allow that.
After all, the Red Sox just made a big commitment to Sale. And he wasn’t a complete picture of health last season, either, despite posting a career-best 2.11 ERA as a starter. Sale made just seven starts after the All-Star break while battling shoulder inflammation. Of course, he did bounce back in the postseason to help Boston take home the World Series.
Because of his postseason workload, Boston decided to manage Sale’s spring workload for the second straight year. He was limited to just nine innings in “A” games. That made a slow start more likely as he’ll be building stamina and working out some kinks in games that count.
Sale’s next start will be worth watching though. That’s expected to come next week in Oakland against the A’s. If his struggles continue, the anxiety will heighten.