Few pitchers know what it's like to be Chris Sale at his best, but Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is one of them.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner also knows how unsettling it can feel to be a pitcher of Sale's caliber who must learn to live with stuff that begins to inevitably degrade. So it was illuminating to hear Kershaw's thoughts on Sale's rough start to 2019.
"I know Chris enough to know he's pretty mentally strong," Kershaw said this week from his eighth All-Star Game. "I wouldn't worry about him. I also know from watching from the other side, it doesn't look like it's that far off. He punched out 17 guys at one point this year. He's still punching out guys at a crazy rate. The velocity, the break, everything looks like it's still there. It's not like he lost it. It's just a matter of figuring out in his brain what he needs to do. His loss is a lot of people's best. It doesn't look that bad from the outside."
Kershaw once routinely threw 96-98 mph, just like Sale. He's averaging a career-low 90.5 mph on his fastball this year and has yet to break 93. But that hasn't stopped him from going 7-2 with a 3.09 ERA and striking out 91 in 99 innings.
His days of posting sub-2.00 ERAs and striking out 300 may be over, but his ability to win games and navigate difficult lineups remains intact.
"I don't think you think about it," Kershaw said. "You don't think of it as a conscious change. For me, it's pitch the exact same and then let the hitters determine what you need to do to get them out. Sometimes that's throwing different things at different times, and being a little less predictable. I know I'm pitching differently, I guess, but in my head it feels the same."
The mental grind can wear on even the best pitchers, but Kershaw sees Sale as particularly strong in this regard.
"What we go through on a day-in, day-out basis, no one understand that," Kershaw said. "As a starting pitcher, it can be challenging when you don't pitch well to sit there and stew about it for four days. Just seeing his mannerisms, his composure, his competitiveness, he's a guy you admire."
Kershaw expects Sale to rebound. The Red Sox left-hander is an uncharacteristic 3-8 with a 4.04 ERA, but he has still struck out 153 in 107 innings, thrown a shutout, and authored a 17-strikeout effort vs. the Rockies.
"If that's still in there, from two months ago, it's still in there somewhere, for sure," Kershaw said. "He'll find it.