Will Chris Sale need to “dial it down” to avoid injury again?


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What happened to Chris Sale in 2018 when his velocity dropped and he pitched marvelously, through pain, to close out the World Series? Was his left shoulder bursitis avoidable and did the team’s slow ramp-up plan in the regular season have anything to do with it?

Today, the accepted theory seems to be the one that jumped out at the time he was first hurt, even though the team was skeptical at the time of the injury: velocity.

Sale was rolling midyear. He started in his third consecutive All-Star Game, bringing heat in every outing. He was also throwing incredibly hard. Who would tell a dominant pitcher to do something other than dominate? 

Perhaps this season, they’ll just have to tell him to dominate differently.

“I’ve thought about it a lot,” pitching coach Dana LeVangie said, “I’m not sure I can say I would’ve changed anything. The build-up to the season, how he was pitching up to that point, God, he was the best pitcher in the world. We can all look back and say that, at that point, there were a number of starts where he was ungodly. 

“Maybe the velocity was at the highest point for a length of time [and] that was something he might not have been used to. But again, it’s hard to say, ‘Hey, Chris, dial it down,’ knowing it’s working, it’s getting people out, we’re winning baseball games and he’s the best pitcher in the world. Not sure I would’ve changed anything.”

Manager Alex Cora at the Winter Meetings made a reference to Sale being good at 95 mph, which implied he doesn’t need to throw say 100 mph.

Sale in June and July was averaging 97-98 mph on his fastball, per BrooksBaseball.net. He hit triple digits in both months. This was after Sale ramped up slowly to begin the ’18 season in an effort to increase durability.  

“We’re talking about, is there an ideal velocity we can work around and stay at?” LeVangie said. “And add when we want to, instead of going up to 100 mph in the second pitch of the game or first pitch of the game? 

“But, again, you guys all know watching baseball the last couple years, guys win and lose baseball games in the first inning, and if you’re not prepared to go out there and get people out right away, you might be losing the game, 1-0, 2-0, because no teams are waiting around. They’re getting on the board early."

Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told ESPN's Buster Olney on a podcast that Sale has "full clearance" for normal spring training.

“He’s full clearance, he’s 100 percent,” Dombrowski said. “He’s getting ready for the season. He’s been throwing long toss and doing all the normal activities that we do at this time of year. He’s been cleared from the doctor’s perspective. So we just anticipate a normal spring training and year for Chris.

Sale’s been working out at JetBlue Park in Florida.

"The only difference is working out at the park with the guys, focusing on things for endurance and obviously strength for my shoulder and things like that,” said Sale, who lives near JetBlue Park, but hasn’t always spent his offseason working there primarily. “Other than that, just kind of normal. Started throwing just after Thanksgiving, so it’s been a few months now. Started stretching it out, playing long toss and getting ready for spring training.

“I’ve been playing catch for a couple of months and doing some things to strengthen my shoulder in the training room, but also doing some motions in the weight room to strengthen the shoulder and stuff like that. It’s been good. Everything has been going well.”

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