Like the Red Sox as a team this season, Chris Sale came back to earth in a 7-10 loss to the Washington Nationals on Thursday. Sale's performance comes after a stellar first start against the Detroit Tigers a week earlier.
Leading into the game Sale was expected to be on a pitch count with the Red Sox understandingly being careful with the 34-year-old lefty.
Sale started the night pitching two scoreless innings and got a lead heading into the bottom of the third thanks to Triston Casas hitting homerun No. 20 on the season.
Sale would make a poor mistake walking the Nationals No. 9 batter former Red Sox Jeter Downs to start the third inning. Downs then stole second and would eventually score on a throwing error by third baseman Rafael Devers.
After a 1-2-3 fourth inning, the mistake of walking batters late in the order would come to haunt Sale again in the fifth, walking the Nos. 8 and 9 batters to start the inning.
The danger prompted by the walks and impending pitch cap would end Sale's night after getting a single out. Manager Alex Cora brought in reliever Josh Winckowski who proceeded to allow five runs, with two being attributed to Sale.
The Red Sox situation did not improve, with Chris Murphy allowing a further three runs in the sixth inning. The Nationals would hold onto their lead despite the Red Sox rallying to put six runs across in the seventh.
The loss seals a series loss that the Red Sox can ill-afford, with a difficult schedule in the coming weeks and ground still to be made up in the Wild Card race.
What are the next steps for Red Sox, Chris Sale?
With time, the team will need Sale to go deeper into games. The bullpen should be better off with Garrett Whitlock returning to the team, but it still has been overworked in recent weeks due to the likes of Sale, Whitlock, and others being out with injuries.
Sale's velocity was down in Thursday's start with his fastball clocking in at an average of 91.8 mph, as opposed to his previous outing where he averaged 94.5 mph.
Both Cora and Sale said they were not worried about the dip in velocity. With Sale telling MassLive's Chris Cotillo "The ball wasn’t jumping out of the hand like I wanted it to, but I was able to, for the most part, make pitches when I needed to."
Sale did have good moments in tonights start, navigating through the first and second innings despite giving up doubles in both.
Ultimately Sale needs time, and Red Sox fans need to ride the highs and lows along the way. The team will be very careful with Sale after dealing with yet another season mired by injury that had started off well.
This is not the first time Sale has had to return from injury with a possible playoff birth on the horizon. Sale returned in the 2021 season in August after missing the entire 2020 season due to Tommy John surgery and was able to provide an arm to the team including three playoff appearances.
With yet another return coming for the Red Sox with Tanner Houck, the team will need to lean on the recovering pitchers to spur a run for a playoff birth through a tightly contested wild card race.