Batter No. 1 – Matt Duffy
Matt Duffy missed all of 2017 with a heel injury, so this was actually his first big league at-bat in about 18 months. Prior to that heel injury, Duffy was about as average a hitter as one can find, owning a career wRC+ of exactly 100. And he faired about as well as you could hope from an average hitter with 18 months of rust against one of baseball’s best pitchers.
Sale quickly got ahead of the right-handed third baseman throwing a 94 mph fastball and an 87 mph changeup on the outer edge for called strikes. Considering that the count was 0-2 and that Sale is much better at baseball than Duffy, Sale probably could have thrown a fastball down the middle here and just called it a day. But, with the lack of threats behind Duffy in the Rays lineup, Sale and Vazquez decided to play it safe.
The southpaw elevated a fastball above the strike zone, hoping Opening Day jitters would cause Duffy to chase. Duffy took the pitch for a ball, but Sale wouldn’t give up that easily. Sale threw a beautifully spotted changeup off the lower outside edge of the plate, but again Duffy took the pitch for a ball.
Sale was now done being cute; he threw a fastball on the inside edge, which was fouled away, and then blew Duffy away with a 96 mph fastball right over the middle of the plate. Duffy could only manage a feeble half swing at the heater.
Vazquez and Sale’s initial plan seemed to be pitch Duffy on the outer edge – throwing three of his first four pitches there – but Duffy did not strike much fear into the heart of the lanky hurler and eventually, Sale just went with good ol’ number one to set him down swinging.
The fact that Duffy was able to hang with Sale for six pitches was almost impressive, but in the end, he was just a strikeout victim; as Jerry Remy said, “the first of many” for Sale this season.