CLEVELAND — Let’s see what the Indians make Chris Sale do.
If the Red Sox ace rebounds well from this bad month — if he dominates a postseason outing against the same club that rocked him Thursday night — his repair could become his most impressive act in a potential Cy Young year.
Up until now, the story of Sale’s first season in Boston has been one of superiority. It’s been a tale of three unhittable pitches and flabbergasted opponents. Sale never shakes his catcher, you’ll recall, because he’s just that good. You’ve been watching an overwhelming, practically incomparable talent.
In the wake of his three-inning performance Thursday, the Sale that Red Sox fans will have a chance to better see going forward is the worker.
He appears vulnerable now. He is, in fact, vulnerable.
“I just sucked, quite honestly,” Sale said after matching a career-low for innings pitched in a start.
Now to better understand Sale the scientist, Sale the student. We know about the notes Rick Porcello takes. What about Sale?
“We have to go back and look, not only at the two starts this year [against the Indians] but over the course of a bigger time period where there might be some other starts where we really comb through some video and see if there is any common thread throughout these,” manager John Farrell said. “We know there are some guys in that lineup that have had success against him. We may have to look a little bit more explicitly about how we devise a game plan against them.”
Sale is meticulous in his pre-start preparation, but a lot of what we know has to do with preparing his body to pitch. He empties his mind, purposely, once he’s on the hill. But leading into his next starts, and again leading into a presumed October appearance, what will be tested is how well Sale can make repairs.
Surely, Sale has made corrections throughout the year. Maintenance is routine, but you rarely hear about it unless something goes noticeably wrong. This ship never really sputtered previously.
Was Sale tipping pitches? Were his mechanics simply off? Did he and catcher Sandy Leon fall into a pattern that the Indians have picked up on?
“It was basically everything,” Sale said. “You saw the pitches that they hit. Not down, not over the zone. They were center-cut. Everything was just right there.”
The answers, in some way, are less interesting than how quickly they’re found and who finds them and how and after how much time — assuming they are in fact found.
“Just get back to the drawing board tomorrow,” Sale said. “Obviously I'm going to look at what happened tonight and try to figure something out. Because my last handful of starts, that's just not it. Not good enough. Just need to be better. There's no way around it, and this one's kind of the cherry on top. Something's got to give, and we're going to figure it out.”
Farrell pointed to fastball command.
“Both Cleveland and Minnesota are two very good fastball-hitting teams,” Farrell said. “They’re the two who have swung the bat the best against him. It’s a matter of being able to throw your fastball to both sides of the plate for strikes and slow them down in certain counts.”
Historically, Sale has had lesser performances in the second half. Last year, however, he seemed to eliminate that issue.
This year is shaping up to be the first in Sale’s career that he makes more starts on regular rest than on extra rest. But there’s no indication right now fatigue is the problem.
“We’re in a stretch where we don’t have the luxury of building in an off-day,” Farrell said. “We have to get back to executing pitches.”
The pitcher who soared above the normal cat-and-mouse game is staring at a drawing board for the first time in his Red Sox career.