WORCESTER, Mass. — Chris Sale struggled to calm down Wednesday night in what was to be his final start to rehab before joining his teammates in Boston.
Now the Red Sox brass will have to decide whether to hold back the return of their former ace.
Sale struck out five Triple-A hitters before leaving when he scored a two-out run in the fourth inning — his fifth walk of the night — then said he was ready to get back into the rotation. from Boston.
“I’m very ready,” he said after throwing 72 pitches in 3⅔ innings and allowing one run on three hits. “I know today was a little hiccup, but there’s nothing that can’t be fixed.”
Pitching for the Worcester Red Sox against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders, a Yankees farm team, Sale failed to deliver a 1-2-3 inning, though he induced a double play to get out of the third .
He loaded the bases in the fourth on three hits – including two singles to the field. He knocked out designated hitter Armando Alvarez for the second out with a 96 mph fastball that was his 65th pitch of the game.
That was supposed to be the limit for the 33-year-old southpaw, who broke a rib while training alone during the major league lockdown. But when pitching coach Paul Abbott came out to talk to Sale, he left alone.
9 hitter David Freitas worked the count to 3-2, then took a pitch close enough for the sold-out crowd to cheer in anticipation of a strikeout. But plate umpire Sam Burch remained silent, the runner trotted off third to tie the game 1-1, and Sale hit the air in frustration.
Manager Chad Tracy headed to the mound and Sale walked off to a standing ovation from the crowd of 8,891. As he walked away, he waved his glove friendly at Burch.
“I’m a pitcher. I think it’s all strikes,” Sale told more than two dozen reporters at a mid-game press conference in the club’s weight room. “It was probably broken. Honestly, I didn’t even look at it.”
Sale did not record a decision in the game, which the Railriders won 4-2. He gave his performance a raspberry and called it “not good”, but said his struggle with command was “a blip on the radar”.
“I mean, I’ve walked five guys. I’ve gone months without walking five guys,” the seven-time All-Star said. “It just tells me that everything is fine. It’s just that I have things to clean up.”
Sale, whose first pitch was clocked at 97mph, said his problem was “it was almost too good”.
“I was just fighting myself today,” he said. “The thing was there. I just had to corral it, and I couldn’t.”
Sale could return to the Red Sox as early as next week against AL East rival Tampa Bay, giving him a chance to make another start against the New York Yankees before the All-Star break.
“It was all about me coming back to the big leagues and starting to do my job and make my weight and try to win a championship,” said Sale, who treated his teammates to a Hibachi lunch and dinner. of steak on Wednesday. “It’s all great, but that’s the big picture and I have to get back to it.”
Tracy said what happens next is “completely and totally out of my hands.”
“He came out of it healthy and felt really good, which is the most important thing in situations like this,” he said. “He was probably a little amped up…but things looked good. He felt good. For me, with a guy like that, it’s a successful day.”
Sale has pitched just 42⅔ innings for the Red Sox since the end of the 2019 season. He missed all of 2020 recovering from Tommy John surgery, then went 5-1 with a 3 ERA .16 last year.
He said the return from this injury was very different from the previous one. Since showing up late to spring training, he hasn’t felt any pain in his ribcage, Sale said.
“I know today wasn’t great. But comparing it to last year, you’re in a completely different situation,” he said. “Just more confidence in myself and my abilities, coming back from major arm surgery last year, still a lot of question marks.
“This year is no longer just about sharpening the sword, not about rebuilding it.”