Early into his start Friday night in Tampa it was to hard to pin down exactly what on Earth Chris Sale was doing. turns out the Rays were feeling the same way.
1. Sitting in the low-90s and daring the Rays’ hitters to jump out across dish and try to drive fastballs on the outer edge, Sale looked like he was playing possum for the first inning or two, showing hitters a lower velocity and different looks, and then popping in some of his off-speed pitches once he got hitters to be over-aggressive.
Except, that would be an oversimplification. Sale didn’t spin a two-hit shutout on a 106 pitches on a simple set up and countermove. Plus, save for some lively flyouts in the first, it’s not like Rays hitters looked anymore comfortable with him sitting 91 mph than 96. There was too much sink and movement
He switched speeds and eye levels, swapped slurves and sliders and looked in control of his actions rather than the overthrowing and straining that slightly marred his Opening Day start’s worst stretches. Friday night’s Sale gem wasn’t built on speed, but was long on comfort.
2. Nine shutout innings dropped Sale’s ERA to a suddenly very characteristic 2.35, which is still higher than the White Sox as a team over their 8-2 start of smothering out bad offenses. Striking out nine over his complete game, Sale outdueled Tampa’s Jake Odorizzi, who twirled seven shutout innings of his own, despite giving up some loud contact early
Just for emphasis, annihilating weak offenses and weak teams has value, because that’s how playoff-caliber clubs build their bids. Teams of the Royals, Dodgers, Cubs caliber, you can never ask much more than to play them to a draw. To win 90 games, the Sox need to expose and exploit the weaknesses of the deeply flawed opponents they’re fortunate enough to draw.
Similarly, while Sox pitching is just shutting down weak hitting clubs early on, that’s necessary with an offense that looks like it could be very inconsistent until improvements are made. The Sox are possibility still in extras if Sale isn’t completely unstoppable and dictating the nature of every inning. Dominance rather than simply success over bad lineups has real value.
3. Around the time Jimmy Rollins was bouncing a routine throw to first in the seventh inning and extending a mild Rays scoring threat, he didn’t look like someone who needed to be starting at shortstop on a regular basis.
Naturally, he turned it around and wound up being the hero. After getting stranded on second in the first, Rollins worked twice as hard to find his way back and was rewarded for it in the ninth. He led off the final frame with a sinking liner that Desmond Jennings trapped for a single to left, and caught the Rays’ defense napping when he took off on a Todd Frazier flyout to deep right center and claimed second base with two outs.
Because the Rays were weirdly willing to let Alex Colome face the left-handed Melky Cabrera with first base open, that extra base paid immediate dividends when a hot grounder snuck under Steve Pearce‘s glove at first and plated Rollins for the only run of the game. That’s just veteran leadership right there. Tyler Saladino would have probably checked snapchat halfway to second.*
4. With two more hits, Cabrera is now up to a .390 OBP on the season, despite not really having any power. If the Sox were too power and strikeout heavy with their offseason additions to the offense, Cabrera is the tonic, and should be embraced as such
5. A fan was hurt behind the plate by a foul ball off the bat of Steven Souza in the seventh inning. By all appearances and reports, the foul snuck through a gap in the netting–estimated at the width of a one and a half baseballs–made for photographers. The woman struck appeared to be conscious and responsive, but also possibly suffering from an eye injury. Our best wishes are with her and her family.
It’s unclear whether this is cause for further scrutiny on safety netting behind the plate, or just such an improbable awful event that it might never be duplicated.
Team Record: 8-2
Next game is at 5:10pm CT at Tampa on WGN for TV and WLS for radio.
*He would not, for the record.
Lead Photo Credit: Rick Scuteri // USA Today Sports Images