Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Chris Sale not holding his end of Red Sox bargain
BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox have played 12 out of 162 games, and starter Chris Sale has taken the hill three times, when he has averaged 31 starts in each of the last four years.
So, panicking this early in the baseball season might be akin to tossing the baby out with the bath water. But that does not mean there isn't some concern in the home clubhouse at Fenway Park.
Sale managed only four innings, giving up five earned runs in Toronto's 7-5 win in Tuesday's home opener. Boston fell to 3-9 with the loss.
The Red Sox lefty, who signed a five-year, $145 million extension during Spring Training, did not have many words when asked what went wrong.
"I didn't pitch good," he said.
That's an understatement, and it is something that the Red Sox have to be concerned about.
Sale had two good innings, as he retired the side in order in the first and second. When he struck out Richard Urena looking to open the third, the left-hander had struck out three and had thrown 27 pitches. Sale came into the game with a 0-2 record and an 8.00 earned-run average, not what you want to see from a pitcher getting $29 million a year for the next five seasons.
"You guys are watching me struggling. I don't know if I've ever pitched like this in my life," Sale said. "It's a tough spot to be in. But I've got guys in here fighting, and I've got to keep fighting. There's no giving up. If something's not working, you've got to go to something else, and when that's not working, you go to something else. Trying to find something.
"This isn't a hard-work league, this is a do-good league."
The first two-plus innings looked really good, but they turned out to be fool's gold.
Sale gave up two runs on three hits in the third, which tied the game at 2. Toronto took the lead for keeps in the next inning by scoring three runs on four hits. By the time Sale left, he had given up five earned runs on seven singles. It was death by a million paper cuts.
"It's not putting away hitters when I had a chance to," he said. "Obviously, some balls found some holes today. You give up hits, you give up runs, you're going to lose games."
Red Sox manager Alex Cora said that Sale's velocity was 91-92 miles an hour with "flashes of 94-95.
"The off-speed [pitches], the slider were a little inconsistent," Cora said. "He made some good ones down and in to righties, and left some in the zone. His change-up wasn't great."
This, of course, is the same Chris Sale that went 12-4 with a 2.11 ERA last year. He also got the final out in last year's World Series-clinching victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It was a steady hand on the steering wheel by the then first-year manager that helped the Red Sox win the World Series championship — a win that was celebrated from Maine to Connecticut. Cora isn't quite ready to start going crazy, but he is concerned about how the entire team is playing.
"We have to play better," Cora said. "We just have to play better. Better defense, better offense, pitch better. As everybody knows, we go with our starters. Our starters are the strongest point. So far, they haven't been good."
You score five runs in a game with the starting pitching Boston is supposed to have, and that should be enough to chalk up a win. In six of the Red Sox's nine losses, including Tuesday's home opener, they scored four runs or more.
That tells you pretty much all you need to know about the first 12 games.
Sale told an assembly of reporters that when six relievers throw five innings and give up only two runs, that should be enough to win — if the starter had done his job.
Sale said he's not hurting, things just aren't going his way.
And it wasn't that the Red Sox played bad baseball either.
"This wasn't us not playing good, this was me sucking today," he said. "It's frustrating because today was the day we were going to turn it around. We're back home, [the ring] ceremony in front of our home fans, playing our first home game.
"Everyone did what they had to do except me, and that's frustrating stuff."
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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