NEW YORK — Chris Sale got plenty of extra rest last year. The Red Sox seem keen to give it to him again.
The lefty entered Tuesday leading the majors in average pitches per game, 108.3. Last year, he was second in the majors at 107.2, so this isn’t some crazy figure.
But on Saturday vs. the Tigers, the lefty ace is scheduled to be on five days rest for the fourth time in six starts. Last year, Sale had a 2.87 ERA when he pitched with extra rest — and that was often. It always has been.
Since becoming a full-time starter in 2012, Sale has never had a season where he’s thrown more games on regular rest than extra rest.
“Well, we want to give him an extra day, we’re trying to manage so we can give him an extra day this time just because the last two starts (were) high pitch counts, and five, six innings,” pitching coach Carl Willis said Tuesday. “Anytime we can make that happen and feel like it’s necessary, we’re going to try to do it.”
Sale threw on more than four days’ of rest, the standard amount, 17 times last year (excluding his first start of the season and his first start of the second half). That tied him for the second-most outings on extra rest in the majors.
Sixteen times, he was on five days’ rest. In 2015, he made 15 starts on five days rest and 12 on four.
There might be a winning formula here.
Seventeen is the same number of extra-rest starts made last year by Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, members of the world champion Cubs. The highest mark in 2016 belonged to Kyle Hendricks, also of the Cubs, at 19.
For comparison: David Price threw on a regular four days’ rest last year 25 times. He went beyond that nine times.
If he’s well-rested, will the Sox continue to let Sale throw among the most pitches in the league? Manager John Farrell was panned by fans and the media on April 20, when Sale was overwhelming the Toronto Blue Jays and pulled after eight innings at just 102 pitches.
That might not have been the most important day to save Sale some tosses. But, the general idea of conservation is important.
In seven starts since, Sale has gone at least 110 pitches five times.
“We’ve talked about the fact that we want to keep him strong for the entire course of the season,” Willis said. “Obviously, he pitched so well early on that him getting in deep in games, it just kind of (was a) natural happening. But it’s something we’ll continue to monitor and look at as we go forward.”
In his career, Sale has been worse in the second half (3.31 ERA) than the first (2.76). But last year, those figures were nearly even, with a 3.38 ERA in the first half and a 3.28 ERA in the second half. He had a higher strikeout rate after the All-Star break than before it last year, and that holds true for his career as well.
It’s worth noting that Sale said he was purposely reducing velocity last season to be more efficient. He’s back in full force with his fastball this year, sitting at 95.45 mph after averaging 93.64 mph in 2016, per BrooksBaseball.net. He was at 95.64 two years ago.
Worth noting as well: the Sox aren’t scared to lean on their best arms. Rick Porcello was fourth on the list of average pitches per game among qualified pitches entering Tuesday, at 106.2. Porcello was sixth last year at 103.3.
Also qualifying in 2016: David Price, ninth, at 102.7.
Porcello’s had a rocky start, and Price was hurt to begin the year, but the latter looks like he could be back in full force.