There wasn’t a better sight anywhere in baseball than the one in Baltimore on Sunday afternoon, when Chris Sale retook the mound after a brief stint on the disabled list. Although he really didn’t miss all that much time in the grand scheme of things, it was like a king retaking his throne.
Of course, Sale was dominant. Twelve strikeouts, one hit, no walks, no runs. Ho hum. Just a normal day for the Red Sox ace and prohibitive favorite to win the American League Cy Young. The interesting thing, even beyond the absurd performance, was Alex Cora deciding to remove Sale from the game after just five innings of work and 68 total pitches. We knew that he wasn’t planning on letting Sale go very long, but it had been reported that Cora was thinking maybe 85-90 pitches. At the rate Sale was going, that probably would’ve gotten him through seven innings, but instead they decided to shorten the leash even more.
As disappointing as it was at the time — who knows how many strikeouts he could have ended up with — it was good to see that the Red Sox are going to be cautious with Sale going forward. Obviously, they wanted to keep his work limited since he hadn’t started a game in a couple weeks, but they also have to be thinking about keeping him fresh down the stretch.
This point has been beaten into the ground, but it remains ever so true and important. Boston doesn’t want a repeat of what happened late last year, when Sale’s ERA jumped to 4.09 over the last two months of the regular season. They especially don’t want a repeat of last year’s ALDS against the Astros, when Sale allowed seven runs over five innings in his lone start of the postseason. He had carried the team all year long that once he finally reached the home stretch, he just had nothing left. It’s been a common occurrence for him throughout his career, daring back to his several years with the White Sox. The only difference between now and then is that he actually has to worry about holding up not only through September, but hopefully through October as well.
It sounds strange to say, but Sale’s little trip to the disabled list was kind of a blessing. He got to rest for a bit, and even without him, the Red Sox still swept the Yankees and took two out of three from the Blue Jays. And the rest certainly appears to have paid off, because Sale came back on Sunday in Baltimore and looked as fresh as he ever has, which is saying something because he’s looked pretty fresh all year.
The Sox have a 9.5-game lead over the Yankees in the division right now, so going forward, they can absolutely afford to keep resting Sale. In future starts, maybe he can go a little longer than 68 pitches (please?), but this is the right general idea. The only bummer about limiting Sale’s innings over the last two months of the season is that it might cost him the Cy Young if another pitcher gets hot down the stretch, but hey, it’s totally worth it if it means he can carve teams up in the playoffs.
Anybody disagree? Didn’t think so.