The Red Sox were satisfied enough with the condition of Sale’s shoulder to give him the new contract. But Sale’s average fastball velocity has dipped to 91.3 miles per hour this season, according to Fangraphs, down from 94.7 last season. He has thrown 88 fastballs so far, according to MLB.com, and generated just two swinging strikes.
“I’m struggling,” Sale told reporters after Tuesday’s 7-5 loss, in which he lasted just four innings. “I don’t know if I’ve ever pitched like this in my life.”
The Red Sox did not expect to worry about their rotation. Their starters all made relief cameos last postseason, eager to contribute to a title run and expertly deployed by Manager Alex Cora. In spring training, Cora limited their workload — even more than he had the year before — with an eye on the long game.
“We want them to be great the whole season, but we don’t want them to be in a situation where they come in April and they’re great, but throughout the season they’re going down, down, down,” Cora said in March. “Every game counts, obviously, from March 28 all the way to the end of the regular season, but we want them to be consistent, and I think they understand that.”
With their farm system largely depleted by trades, the Red Sox have invested heavily in their starters. Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez will combine to make about $88.5 million this season, more than the entire payroll of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Baltimore Orioles, the Miami Marlins or the Rays.
Yet the Red Sox have met the minimum requirements for a quality start (at least six innings, no more than three earned runs) just once so far: on April 2 in Oakland, when Sale allowed one run over six innings, with only one strikeout.