On the opposite end of the pitching appreciation spectrum from the slow realization that Philip Humber was not fading down the stretch against the Mariners on April 21st, was the immediate response to seeing Chris Sale blow away the first two hitters he faced Monday, as he cruised to a 15 strikeout performance over 7.1 one-run innings.
Just because Sale provided immediate gratification throughout the Memorial Day afternoon, doesn’t mean we can’t take a longer, relaxed look at it.
Referring back to those first two hitters:
After striking out leadoff man Sean Rodriguez on three pitches, Sale did something to B.J. Upton that–while it would asinine to suggest Upton was intimidated–might have messed with his thinking a little.
- Pitch 1 is a 89 mph fastball that Upton is taking all the way for
- Thinking that’s something he can handle, Upton gears up for the next heater, only to find that Sale has cranked up Pitch 2 to 93 mph and he’s late on it.
- Pitches 3 and 4 are out the zone but thrown at 96 and 95.
- Having planted the seed of big velocity in Upton’s head, Sale gets him miles out in front of a slider on Pitch 5 for strike three
And that really set the tone for the day. Sale had an enormous fastball that the Rays had a hard enough of a time getting around on its own (9 swings and misses), which only exacerbated their issues identifying the slider (10 swings and misses) that Chris pretty much never missed with (27 of 33 for strikes)*.
*This is not to say that every slider was in the zone, simply that it was around the zone and sharp enough to induce swings, which is the goal of the pitch
Sale averaged around 92-93 mph with a fastball that Pitch FX largely classified as a two-seamer, and topped out around 97 mph, which is a pretty hellish pace for a pitch with two-seamer action. He didn’t fade away either, as he showed the ability to still hit 96 mph in the 7th inning to strike out Jose Molina. It was type of top-end velocity that was dreamed about for Sale, but short of an unnatural spike.
The 115 pitch count he accrued can’t really be attributed to inefficiency either, unless it’s considered inefficient to rack up strikeouts. Even if the Rays thought it in their best interest to be more aggressive, they simply couldn’t make contact on Sale or cause any quick outs.
The only real blip came in the 4th, when a runner that Sale had already picked off (only for him to escape due to a bad throw by Dunn) came around to score on a single. Still, in terms of the full utilization of Sale’s skill set (plus velocity, dominant slider, effective changeup, command of all three, etc.), it was a perfect outing, with no caveats.
So, of course, let’s address the would-be caveats.
The Rays did not field a particularly strong lineup. Names such as Sean Sutton and Jose Lobaton filled the middle of the order. However, this only took place because Rays manager Joe Maddon thought his lefty power hitters Carlos Pena, Matt Joyce, and Luke Scott would be wasted against Sale, and he can hardly be docked for the opposing strategies he inspired.
115 pitches is a lot to see the skinny lefty–who is still presumed to be fragile–endure. Yet if ‘high-stress’ moments, and the amount of time Sale had to work out of the stretch is as important to measure as total pitches, the outing was rather light. Sale allowed five baserunners, only two of which reached scoring position, and he only came out in the 8th to face lefty Rich Thompson, who hadn’t swung within a foot of anything all day.
For all the hand-wringing and anxiety that monitoring the progress of top prospects bring, the payoff they’re supposed to give is moments of purely enjoyable dominance, and Sale delivered just that on Monday.
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