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.
Mets right-hander Matt Harvey is heading to the bullpen, according to comments made by club manager Mickey Callaway on Saturday. As predicted, Harvey doesn’t appear to be taking the news particularly well, going so far as to tell Callaway that the decision has him “at a 10 with being pissed off” and that he’s motivated to prove himself as a starter.
It’s been rough going for Harvey this spring. After missing significant time to a shoulder injury last season, the 29-year-old righty returned to the mound with a lot left to prove. He pitched to an 0-2 record in four starts, issuing 14 runs, four home runs and 17 strikeouts in 21 innings. It’s been a while since the Mets have seen anything better out of their starter — he hasn’t turned in a sub-4.00 ERA since 2015 and hasn’t pitched well enough to earn an All-Star berth since 2013 — and now it appears they’re at the end of their rope.
At this point, the Mets insist that the shift is a temporary one. While Callaway has helped successfully convert several starters to the bullpen, including Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco, that’s not the plan for this veteran right-hander. Instead, both the team and Harvey seem to view the change as a way to clear up any mental blocks Harvey may be encountering on the mound. “We know he’s healthy,” assistant GM John Ricco told reporters. “He’s feeling good. Then you get to, is this a little bit of a mental thing, a confidence thing? One of the things we talk about is getting him into the ‘pen, where he can have success in short spurts, get that confidence back and really let it go and get back to being a guy who can dominate the way he’s shown in the past.”
Harvey will be eligible to pitch out of the bullpen on Tuesday, when the Mets are scheduled to kick off their next road series against the Cardinals. As for his replacement, left-hander Jason Vargas will resume his role in the rotation when he comes off the disabled list next Saturday.