Well would you look at that. As it turns out, the Red Sox are still capable of playing winning baseball. (We, of course, already knew that but it’s still nice to see play out on the field, even in meaningless games.) This was a good all-around game from the Red Sox, with the offense breaking out a bit early in a performance highlighted by a Mookie Betts homer. It was the pitching that really stood out, though. Chris Sale was back and he looked like Chris Sale again, at least in terms of results. The bullpen looked as good as it has all spring, too. Things appear to be coming together, for one day at least.
Welcome back to our lives, Chris
As I mentioned above, Chris Sale was back on the mound on Saturday. It wasn’t technically his first start of 2019, as he pitched in a minor-league game last week. It was his first major-league game, though, and it was the first time we got a chance to see him. The ace was fantastic, though he did give up a hard wall-ball single to start things off. After that, though, he was dynamite. They ended up catching Ozzie Albies on a steal attempt to cancel out that leadoff single, and in all after the base hit Sale retired each of the next eight hitters with six strikeouts. Albies actually got another base hit in his next at bat in the fourth, but Sale again came back with three straight outs after that. In all, the lefty tossed four scoreless innings with just the two singles allowed and seven strikeouts. In terms of stuff, his fastball velocity was down a bit, more in the 90-92 range. That’s not a major concern right now, though, as the Red Sox have had him reign in his velocity in past springs and did just that in his minor-league outing. Presumably, that’s what happened here. Even with the reducted velocity the results were obviously stellar thanks to impeccably command and strong showings from both his slider and changeup.
Mookie Betts goes deep
Boston’s biggest star on the pitching staff had a great showing on Saturday, and the offense got some help from their biggest star. Last year’s American League MVP has had a bit of an uneven spring and has been struggling of late, but he looked good against the Braves in this one. Mookie Betts went 2-3 on the day, starting things off with a single and a run scored in a two-run first for the Red Sox. Later, he came up in the sixth to lead off the inning against Braves reliever Shane Carle. In a 3-1 count, Betts got a ball down the heart of the plate a little down and he lofted it up over everything in left field. The solo shot gave Boston a 3-1 lead and was Betts’ first homer of the spring. He’s pretty good.
A rare, strong showing for the bullpen
More concerning than the losses this spring have been the individual performances from the bullpen. Obviously the relief corps is the biggest issue for this team looking ahead to the regular season, at least on paper, and the results this spring haven’t made anyone feel better. Saturday should help with that, as most of the relief appearances were solid. Matt Barnes came on for the fifth after Sale left, and while his velocity was a little down the results were still good. The likely closer in 2019, Barnes tossed a scoreless inning in which he allowed just a single and struck out two, the last of which was a strike-him-out-throw-him-out double play.
Ryan Brasier came on next, making his first appearance of the spring after a slow start due to a toe infection. The righty was the worst pitcher of the day for the Red Sox, which is understandable given the presumed rust. He allowed a single to kick things off, then after a sacrifice bunt to move the runner up to second and a fly out, Brasier couldn’t escape. He allowed a single that knocked in Atlanta’s only run for the day. The inning did end with a strikeout. Brasier is going to be a big part of the bullpen this year. Look for him to get a lot of work as spring training wraps up over the next week-plus.
Next up was Tyler Thornburg, who has had a dreadful spring so far. The coaching staff has made a point to note that his stuff has been up, but even Alex Cora acknowledged that at some point results need to follow. That’s what happened on Saturday. Thornburg had by far his best showing so far in 2019, walking one batter but otherwise doing his job with a scoreless inning that included a strikeout and no hits. A few more outings like that to close out camp will have people feeling at least a little better.
Darwinzon Hernández finished things off with two scoreless innings. The spring phenom had some hiccups, but was still solid overall. He gave up a double to start his outing — the Braves only extra-base hit of the day — before coming back with three straight outs. The ninth began with a single and a wild pitch, but again he recovered and kept the Braves off the scoreboard. Hernández needs to smooth out some edges, but he can be a major help sooner than later if the Red Sox choose to push him.