Boston Red Sox: Chris Sale still thriving under lightened workload

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 10: Chris Sale
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 10: Chris Sale /

Three starts into the 2018 season and Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox is once again dealing, even with a lightened workload.

One of the many tasks a baseball manager has is keeping their top players healthy and strong all season long. For manager Alex Cora and the Boston Red Sox, that means having a ready-to-go Chris Sale come September and October.

If Sale’s first three starts are any indication, Cora has plans for exactly that.

Three starts in, Sale (1-0) has pitched up to his standard despite the lack of decisions to show for it. The lefty has posted a 1.06 ERA in these starts, striking out 23 in 17 innings. Sale has allowed 14 hits and, more importantly, only two runs in these three starts.

Now in his second season in Boston, an even more important factor for Sale has been his pitch count. Not once in April has Sale gone over 100 pitches, with the most he’s thrown has been 93. (92 and 87 in his other two starts.)

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The long, winding road of the baseball season is a grind. Balancing the need to pick up key victories while keeping an eye down the road is a valuable skill. It is one that Cora has displayed deft knowledge in his first three weeks as manager.

Cora, Sale and the Red Sox are attempting to prevent a repeat of Sale’s performance over the last two months of 2017.

An early fight to the fatigue factor

Sale was by no means horrible in the last two months of 2017. He was, however, a far cry from the pitcher he was over the summer.

After ending July of 2017 with a record of 13-4, Sale went 4-4 in 11 starts to close out the regular season. His ERA was over 3.50 in both of these months while giving up 13 home runs (compared to 11 total through July.)

A big reason to this can be attributed to his high pitch count. In his first three starts of 2017, in which he went 1-1 with 1.25 ERA, Sale went over 100 pitches each time.

Dominating as he was for much of the season, Sale did not exit a game at less than 100 pitches until start number 11. Out of 32 regular season starts, Sale did not reach 100 pitches only six times.

There will be games that a high pitch count from Sale will be needed. Cora, though, has shown he is willing to go to the bullpen early if needed. Even though the starting rotation has impressed in the first three weeks, Cora was quick to yank David Price after giving up four first-inning runs to the New York Yankees on Wednesday.

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It’s good to see Cora being conservative with Sale. Limiting the pitch count, especially during the months of April and May, should be a priority with Sale. Considering his late season struggles of prior seasons, it doesn’t hurt to try things this way (as long as the Red Sox are winning).

We’re months away from finding out if the plan pays off. But if early results continue to hold, it’s going to be a long season for American League hitters facing Sale.