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Chris Sale and the Horrible, No Good, Maybe Okay Outing

Chris Sale still has great stuff, but he’ll need to be smarter with it.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

I like to look at baseball as a process as opposed to just drawing conclusions from the outcome. That’s the beauty of the game. Some may call it “analytics” and say it’s ruining the game, but I like to think it’s really just figuring out why something happened, and determining if it will continue to happen.

I already wrote about what Sale can do this season, perhaps with rose-tinted glasses. His first performance of the season was less than inspiring, a three-inning, seven-run shellacking. Maybe it isn’t rose-tinted glasses, maybe it’s a deeper ocular issue, causing me to only see the best in people. I believe the condition is called naivety. Having said that, I think Chris Sale will be just fine. I saw the first inning on Saturday as a microcosm of the start as a whole. Here’s a look at what happened, and where Sale can go from here.

AB #1: Ramon Urias

I was at Fenway on Saturday afternoon for the Red Sox game against the Baltimore Orioles; the anticipation for Sale’s return was palpable. Fan engagement often wanes throughout the game, but everyone was paying attention as Sale took the mound.

He started the at-bat with a 95 MPH fastball right down the middle, the same pitch almost anyone would throw as they try to keep their heart rate down. Sometimes you just have to get one on the board. He followed the fastball up by missing inside with another and then went to his changeup for a called strike.

With two strikes on Urias, Sale elevates his fastball and probably overthrows it, missing up and away. That’s a great miss though, setting up his next pitch.

A beautiful slider. Tons of movement. Spotted perfectly. Maybe Sale is back to his old self. You can’t do it much better than that.

AB #2: Adley Rutschman

Here’s where he needs to be better. Maybe he can get away with this pitch in 2017, when he’s throwing 98 MPH, but he can’t do that anymore. 94 MPH at the belt isn’t going to cut it. He’ll need to be better with location, and a little bit craftier to survive on that fastball, especially down in the count.

AB #3: Ryan Mountcastle

First pitch, excellent changeup that fades to the arm-side and gets the swing and miss. An effective slowball is one way to survive without overpowering heaters.

Well, shit. The lefty goes back to his slider and puts it on a plate for Mountcastle. A true home run derby ball. 422 feet later, 2-0 Orioles. Maybe Sale isn’t back.

AB #4: Anthony Santander

Sale, now powered by pure rage, returns to his old self. Three fastballs at 96+ MPH at the top of the zone, followed by a slider at the feet. Santander has no chance. Almost nobody would have had a chance. Prime Chris Sale remerged for a batter, maybe to stay?

AB #5: Austin Hays

Nope. 3-0, bad guys.

AB #6: Gunnar Henderson

Welcome to the league, rookie. Here are three Chris Sale sliders. Sale spots them well, getting two called strikes, and then buries one for a whiff to end the inning. Maybe he’s back?

A seven-run outing is never a good thing. You don’t give up seven runs on bad luck alone, but that doesn’t mean we should throw the lefty to the wolves just yet. He showed flashes of brilliance followed by meatballs fit for a restaurant in the North End. There was a time when Sale would never shake off a catcher because all of his stuff was that good. That time is gone. He’ll need to be craftier and more precise to succeed, and it may take time to find that consistency, but the skeleton of an effective pitcher was there on Saturday afternoon.