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.

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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.

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Boston Red Sox celebrate World Series win with parade
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Boston Red Sox celebrate World Series win with parade
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 31: Confetti covers the fans and the Duck boats as they depart Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox World Series Victory Parade on October 31, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
Boston Red Sox's Brock Holt, left, and Andrew Benintendi cheer during a parade to celebrate the team's World Series championship over the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Boston Red Sox's Blake Swihart sprays the crowd as he passes by during a parade to celebrate the team's World Series championship over the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Confetti flies as a duckboat carrying members of the Boston Red Sox pass by during a parade to celebrate the team's World Series championship over the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 31: BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 31: Red Sox pitcher David Price, in person and on a giant cardboard cutout, as the Red Sox World Series parade goes through Copley Square in Boston, MA on Oct. 31, 2018. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 31: BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 31: The Boston Red Sox World Series victory parade headed down Boylston Street in Boston on Oct. 31, 2018. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 31: The Boston Red Sox ride in duck boats on Tremont Street past Park Street Church during the Boston Red Sox Victory Parade on October 31, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 31: A young Red Sox fan screams for his favorite players in Copley Square along the victory parade route for the 2018 World Series champion Boston Red Sox in Boston, MA on Oct. 31, 2018. (Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 31: A fan falls backwards into a crowd of people at the Red Sox World Series victory parade in Boston, MA on Oct. 31, 2018. (Photo by Micheal Swensen for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 31: Red Sox Manager Alex Cora waves with the trophy during the Boston Red Sox World Series victory parade down Boylston Street in Boston on Oct. 31, 2018. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 31: Fans line the streets of Boston for the Red Sox World Series victory parade in Boston, MA on Oct. 31, 2018. (Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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Is there a reason to panic?

Not yet.

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.

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