Chris Sale strikes out 5 in likely final rehab start, declares himself ‘very ready’ to rejoin Red Sox

WORCESTER, Mass. — Chris Sale struggled to calm down on what is believed to be his final rehab start Wednesday night before returning to his teammates in Boston.

Now the Red Sox must decide whether to put the brakes on the return of their one-time ace.

Sale hit five triple-A batters before walking when he hit a two-out run in the fourth inning – his fifth walk of the night – and then said he was ready to reclaim his place in the Boston rotation.

“I’m very ready,” he said after throwing 72 pitches in 3⅔ innings and allowing a run to three hits. “I know there was a little hiccup today, but there’s nothing that can’t be ironed out.”

When pitching for the Worcester Red Sox against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders, a Yankees farm team, Sale failed to deliver a 1-2-3 inning, although he did arrange a double play to get out of the third.

He loaded the bases in the fourth with three hits — two of them infield singles. He beat batsman-designate Armando Alvarez for the second time with a 96-mph fastball that was his 65th pitch of the game.

That should be the limit for the 33-year-old left-hander, who broke a rib while practicing solo during the major league lockout. But when pitching coach Paul Abbott came out to speak to Sale, he went alone.

No. 9 batsman David Freitas counted to 3-2 and then took a pitch close enough for the sold-out crowd to cheer in anticipation of a strike. But Plate umpire Sam Burch remained silent, the runner trotted from third place to a 1-1 tie, and Sale punched the air in frustration.

Manager Chad Tracy made his way to the mound and Sale said goodbye to a standing ovation from the 8,891 crowd. As he walked away, he gave Burch a friendly wave with his glove.

“I’m a pitcher. I think these are all strikes,” Sale told more than two dozen reporters at a during-game press conference in the home clubhouse weight room. “It was probably downstairs. To be honest, I didn’t even look at it.”

Sale didn’t record a decision in the game, which the Railriders won 4-2. He gave his performance a raspberry, calling it “not good” but said his struggle with command was “a runaway on the radar”.

“I mean, I went for a walk with five guys. I went months without walking five guys,” said the seven-time All-Star. “That tells me right there that there is nothing wrong. It’s just that I have some things to clean up.”

Sale, whose first pitch was clocked at 97 mph, said his problem was “it was almost too good”.

“I was just fighting with myself today,” he said. “The stuff was there. I just had to lock it up and couldn’t.”

Sale could return to the Red Sox as early as next week against AL East rival Tampa Bay, which would give him a chance to start again against the New York Yankees before the All-Star break.

“That was all for me to get back into the big leagues and do my job and put on my weight and try to win a championship,” said Sale, who welcomed his teammates with a hibachi lunch and steak on Wednesday -Dinner spoiled. “It’s all great, but this is the big picture and I have to go back there.”

Tracy said it’s “completely and completely in my hands” what happens next.

“He came out healthy and feeling really good, which is the most important thing in situations like this,” he said. “He was probably a little excited… but the stuff looked great. He felt great. For me it’s a successful day with a guy like that.”

Sale has pitched just 42⅔ innings for the Red Sox since the end of the 2019 season. He missed all of 2020 recovering from Tommy John’s surgery and then went 5-1 with a 3.16 ERA last year.

He said that recovering from this injury was very different from the previous one. Since checking in late for spring training, Sale said he hasn’t felt any chest pain at all.

“I know today wasn’t great. But compared to last year, you’re at a completely different point,” he said. “Just more confidence in myself and my abilities, back after major arm surgery last year, lots of question marks left.

“This year is more about sharpening the sword than rebuilding it.” Chris Sale strikes out 5 in likely final rehab start, declares himself ‘very ready’ to rejoin Red Sox

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