MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — With spring training less than a month away, Chris Sale has a concrete idea of how to extend his dominance throughout all of 2018.
For Sale, a lot of talk at the end of the season centered on durability and rest. He led the majors in pitches per game at 107.1. The left-hander was incredibly successful early last season and started the All-Star Game for the American League for a second year in a row. Still, September and the postseason were out of character.
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One explanation Sale offered: he was, in essence, too amped up for his first year in Boston.
“It’s just the gradual rise of my throwing program,” Sale said Saturday afternoon at Red Sox Winter Weekend at Foxwoods of what he can change. “I was new here last year. I came in and I felt like I had to prove something. I hadn’t thrown a single pitch in front of you guys, in front of any of the fans. So I felt, part of me felt I had to come in and say, ‘Hey, this is what you’re getting.’ And you know, I showed up to spring training really ready to go. You know, my arm was in almost season-form, and I think we’re going to gradually build that up this year instead of you know, coming out hot out of the gate.
“Started a bit later trying to ease into it a little more. In terms of working out, started working out earlier, doing Pilates. The same things I’ve been doing conditioning and strength wise, just kind of dialing back my throwing program.”
A plan has been formulated with Sale and the Red Sox staff, including pitching coach Dana LeVangie and manager Alex Cora.
Sale crossed the 300-strikeout plateau for the first time in his career in 2017 and probably would have taken over the team record from Pedro Martinez (313 Ks in 1999) had he made one more start. Sale finished with 308.
“Yeah, I took some time in the offseason to kind of look back and you know appreciate the season as a whole,” Sale said. “Briefly, though. I mean those are things that like I said you don’t want to get stuck on that. Those aren’t things that are important. I mean they’re cool, they’re flashy but, you know strikeouts don’t get you championships. So, I appreciate it, I know I put a lot of hard work into it. I know it’s not easy to do but, I’m not going to be hung up on that."
The strikeout numbers may diminish some as Sale focuses on fewer wasted pitches. Theoretically, fewer wasted pitches could mean he’ll bring on more contact. But it doesn’t sound like he plans to take any velocity off (more than he does as a normal course of pitching).
"I don't know if it's less effort. It's never less effort,” Sale said. “For me, it's just more focus. I don't need to dial it back, I just think I need to eliminate waste pitches. I'd love to be able to get to the sixth inning on a very regular basis with 80, 85 pitches. Easier said than done and it looks good on paper, but those are kind of the things that we've been talking about. Throwing more effective pitches and things like that.”