Red Sox ace Chris Sale doesn’t miss a beat in return from disabled list

Left-handed pitcher Chris Sale was his usual dominant self in his first start for the Boston Red Sox since returning from the disabled list.

The Boston Red Sox can never be too careful when it comes to the health of their ace. Chris Sale was given a brief break when he was placed on the disabled list with mild shoulder inflammation. He was expected to miss only one start but the team delayed his return in order to line up his spot in the rotation to avoid pitching in a National League park where he’d be forced to swing a bat. Sale finally made his triumphant return on Sunday, showing the time off did nothing to slow his recent string of dominance.

Sale blanked the Baltimore Orioles over five innings, allowing only one hit without a walk and striking out 12. His slider was as filthy as ever and he had no qualms about rearing back for upper 90’s heat on his fastball.

This brilliant outing extends one of the most impressive stretches we’ve ever seen from a Red Sox pitcher. Sale has allowed only one earned run over his last seven starts, a span of 44 innings that works out to a minuscule 0.20 ERA. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the lowest ERA by a Red Sox pitcher over any 7-start span since earned runs became an official stat in 1913.

It’s been 50 years since any major league pitcher recorded an ERA that low over a seven-game span (minimum 15 innings). Bob Gibson had a 0.14 ERA from June 6 – July 6 during his MVP campaign in 1968.

Considering how great Sale looked in his first start back from the DL it’s a bit surprising that manager Alex Cora pulled him after five innings. We knew Sale would be on a pitch count but the expectation was that he could throw around 80 pitches. He ended up tossing only 68. He was cruising along, retiring the last nine batters he faced including four consecutive strikeouts to wrap up his outing. Surely the Red Sox could have squeezed one more inning out of him.

The decision nearly backfired when Tyler Thornburg loaded the bases in the sixth inning. Boston led 2-0 at the time and they were on the verge of coughing up that slim advantage. Ryan Brasier squashed the threat by striking out Trey Mancini to escape the jam. There would be plenty of opportunities to second-guess the manager if the bullpen had cost Sale a win.

Thankfully, they didn’t. Boston’s bullpen held on to ensure Sale would earn his 12th win of the season. It was the team’s 85th win, putting them 50 games over .500 for the first time since 1946. The Red Sox can play .500 ball the rest of the way and still set a franchise record with 106 wins!

Sale has earned a win in each of his last seven decisions. That covers a span of nine starts and the Red Sox went on to win one of the games he started without a decision. The one game over this stretch that the team lost was the fault of the bullpen after Sale went seven innings and gave up only two runs on June 19. That was the last time Sale gave up multiple runs in a game. Sale hasn’t been tagged with a loss since June 8 when he went eight innings and allowed only one run in a 1-0 defeat.

Sale leads the American League with a 1.97 ERA and 0.85 WHIP this season. He still leads in strikeouts with 219 despite missing two starts. He’s well on his way to locking in the first Cy Young Award of his career after finishing as the runner-up last year. A second-half skid cost him the hardware last year but perhaps the time he spent on the shelf will keep him fresh for a strong finish this season.

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Boston ended up winning both games that Sale skipped while he was on the DL. If the extra rest helps keep him strong into the postseason then the decision to lighten his workload will have been well worth it.