Red Sox

Chris Sale admits he's never felt this lost on the mound in his life

Chris Sale admits he's never felt this lost on the mound in his life

BOSTON - Cold weather aside, Tuesday’s Red Sox home opener got off to an encouraging start.

Several notable players from past Red Sox championship teams joined the festivities with trophies in hand, last year’s champs collected their new rings, and the Super Bowl LIII champion Patriots joined for the ceremonial first pitch. Then, ace Chris Sale pitched a 1-2-3 first inning and clocked a 94 mph fastball on the radar gun.

Things went downhill from there.

Sale, who let up seven runs on Opening Day in Seattle and then had a career-low average fastball velocity of 89.1 mph in Oakland, saw his struggles continue in his third start. The left-hander allowed five runs, seven hits, and even a steal of home in only four innings pitched.

With a 9.00 ERA after three outings, Sale was asked after Boston’s 7-5 loss if he’s ever felt this lost on the mound.

“Never in my life,” Sale replied.

That’s an alarming statement from someone who just inked a five-year, $145 million contract prior to the season, and it’s certainly not one that is going to help the Red Sox feel at ease.

Sale didn’t mince words or make excuses after the game. The 30-year-old took full ownership of the loss.

“We’ve got to win that game,” Sale said. “This is very easy to throw on the pile and say we aren’t playing good. This wasn’t us not playing good, this was me sucking today. That’s frustrating because today was the day we were going to turn it around.”

Manager Alex Cora noted Sale’s improvement in velocity from his last start, but called the ace’s off-speed pitches “inconsistent.”

“He wasn’t able to put hitters away,” Cora said. “Velocity was 91, 92. Showed some flashes of 94, 95 at the end. But as far as the off-speed, slider, a little inconsistent … the changeup wasn’t great.

“He didn’t have too many swings and misses, and we paid the price.”

Meanwhile, the Red Sox are 3-9 on the season with sole possession of last place in the American League East. They’ll have a day off on Wednesday, then look to get on the right track Thursday vs. Toronto.

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Ryan Weber offers Red Sox a reminder that lighting up a radar gun isn't everything

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Ryan Weber offers Red Sox a reminder that lighting up a radar gun isn't everything

The Washington Post's Dave Sheinin this week took a fascinating deep dive into baseball's toxic love affair with velocity, the force at the root of the game's decline as entertainment.

With more pitchers than ever throwing at least 95 mph, hitters are left with two choices: marry launch angle with exit velocity in the hopes of leaving the park, or find a new line of work. Pitchers roll off a similarly homogenous assembly line, with one 6-foot-4 reliever after another throwing gas. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground.

Then there's Ryan Weber.

The 28-year-old baby-faced right-hander did not reach the big leagues on the strength of his arm so much as the dexterity of his fingers. He breaks 90 mph with his fastball about as often as most of us do on the highway.

He's a throwback to a time when baseball made room for pitchers who didn't max out the radar gun, and rotations craved variety: the flame-throwing right-hander, followed by the crafty lefty, followed by the innings-eater, followed by the forkball specialist, etc. . .

That would seemingly crowd out someone like Webber, who instead relies on the precise location of his sinker, changeup, and curveball. And it's not like opportunities have been plentiful for the former Brave, Mariner, and Ray. Since being drafted in the 22nd round of the 2009 draft by Atlanta, Weber has appeared in only 28 games.

He opened this season as Triple-A depth, and the Red Sox summoned him after injuries to Nathan Eovaldi and David Price thinned the rotation's ranks.

Following three solid relief outings, Weber received the call to start on Thursday against the Blue Jays, where his peculiar set of skills were on full display. Weber reached 90 mph exactly once in 93 pitches. He mostly lived at 86-88 mph with a ton of movement as he worked the corners, stayed out of the middle of the plate, and kept the ball down.

In an age where even accomplished sinkerballers like Rick Porcello feel no choice but to live up in the strike zone, Weber did things his way on Thursday with smashing success. One night after the Red Sox burned through six pitchers in a 13-inning marathon win over the Jays, Weber delivered six innings of one-run ball, limiting the Jays to three hits and striking out four in an 8-2 victory.

"It's different," manager Alex Cora told reporters in Toronto. "It's not that vertical attack, fastballs up, breaking balls down. It's more about pitching east-west and changing speeds. It's like a little bit of old school."

Weber earned his first victory as a starter after spending parts of the last four seasons with the Braves, Mariners, and Rays. If there's one common element to each pitch in his repertoire, it's that nothing is straight. Weber can generate movement to either side of the plate, and he does not let his lack of velocity keep him from throwing front-door two-seamers that start inside to left-handers hitters before zipping back over the corner.

"Just giving the team a chance to win and saving the bullpen was really my main goal," Weber told reporters. "And doing that, I'm excited and proud of what I did."

"Everything felt good," Weber added. "Arm felt great. First win as a starter feels nice."

With Eovaldi making progress in his return from elbow surgery and Price already back in the rotation, the Red Sox hope not to need a rotating fifth starter for much longer. If nothing else, Weber reminded the organization that there's more than one way to be successful, should the need arise again.

"Amazing," Cora said. "He did a good job changing speeds, moving the ball around the strike zone, changing eye level. He can pitch."

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Highlights of Red Sox's 8-2 win over the Blue Jays

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Highlights of Red Sox's 8-2 win over the Blue Jays

FINAL SCORE:  Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 2

IN BRIEF: Ryan Weber pitches six strong innings in his first start since 2017, picking up his first ever win as a starter in the majors, and the Red Sox pull away in the late innings, pounding out eight runs on 15 hits to close out the four-game set in Toronto with an 8-2 victory.

BOX SCORE

RED SOX RECORD: 27-23 

HIGHLIGHTS:

2nd Inning

Freddy Galvis doubles to left field, driving in Rowdy Tellez (1-0 TOR)

3rd Inning

Michael Chavis RBI groundout scores Eduardo Nunez, tying the game (1-1)

4th Inning

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. throws Rafael Devers out while sitting on the ground

6th Inning

Rafael Devers doubles to right center, scoring Xander Bogaerts (2-1 BOS)

Steve Pearce singles home Rafael Devers (3-1 BOS)

Ryan Weber completes strong outing, allowing one run on three hits over six innings, striking out four without a walk (93 pitches, 59 strikes)

7th Inning

Mookie Betts doubles to left, scoring Jackie Bradley, Jr. (4-1 BOS)

Rafael Devers throws Danny Jansen out from his knees

8th Inning

Eduardo Nunez singles to shallow left, scoring Andrew Benintendi (5-1 BOS)

9th Inning

Xander Bogaerts scores from second base on an infield single from Rafael Devers (6-1 BOS)

Steve Pearce finishes a three-hit day with his first home run of the season, a two-run shot to left (8-1 BOS)

Justin Smoak hits a solo HR off Hector Velazquez (8-2 BOS)

UP NEXT:

@ Astros, Friday, 8:10 p.m. NESN
@ Astros, Saturday, 7:15 p.m., FOX
@ Astros, Sunday, 2:10 p.m., NESN

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