Chris Sale began this season by shifting from the bullpen to the rotation, moved back to the bullpen when the White Sox decided to name him closer, and then dealt with elbow soreness while making it very clear that he’d prefer to remain a starter.
Sale (and his agent) got his wish, returning to the rotation yesterday after an MRI exam showed no structural damage in his elbow and the results were … well, a mixed bag, mostly.
It looked like a potentially disastrous outing for Sale when he walked the first two batters he faced and then gave up singles to four of the next five hitters. However, he settled down after that and went on to throw five shutout innings after handing the Royals that early 3-0 lead.
And more importantly Sale felt healthy, telling Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago:
I feel as good as I have all season, so the credit goes to our training and medical staff who have worked have on keeping me strong and flexible. Learning how to deal with the process of having a minor injury was something new for me and beginning with the front office people and all the support staff I have been lucky to know they all have my best interest in mind.
Sale also reiterated how happy he was that manager Robin Ventura and general manager Ken Williams listened to his preference to remain in the rotation and made him a starter again even if it took a brief detour in the bullpen and some arm problems first.
Sale has proven that he can be a dominant late-inning reliever and that remains a long-term option, but he seemingly has the secondary pitches to thrive as a starter and so far has a 3.16 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 37 innings spread over six starts.
Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.
While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.
When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.
Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.
More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.
Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)
It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.