All Red Sox can do now is play spoiler

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All Red Sox can do now is play spoiler

BOSTON Last year the Red Sox had their season ended on the last day in gut-wrenching fashion by the Orioles. The last place Orioles. The doormat Orioles. The cellar-dwelling Orioles.

You remember them, right? Those were the same Orioles who won five of their final seven games in the last 10 days of the season against the Red Sox. Those same Orioles had not been to the postseason since 1997. The devilish joy of playing spoiler in September was made for those kinds of teams.

Those Orioles are now not only contending for the playoffs but contending for first place in the American League East.

While the Red Sox will miss the postseason for the third straight year, they were at least in contention in those Septembers. This season, out of contention and struggling to stay competitive, they find themselves in the unfamiliar and unenviable position of hoping to at least play spoiler, having some say in the play-off race, ending the season with some measure of respectability.

The Sox final 21 games are against their American League East rivals. Beginning Tuesday, all but three of those games (this weekend in Toronto) are against play-off hopefuls, with six each against the Yankees, Rays, and Os. The Sox host the Yankees for three games beginning Tuesday.

Obviously, its going to be a different feel than what people are used to around here, said Cody Ross. But well play spoiler. Thats all we can do now, is try to go out and ruin peoples seasons because ours is pretty much. So, thats what well do. I think now that were getting into playing against the Yankees and the Orioles and teams that are contending in our division, who basically knocked the Red Sox out last year, therell be some exciting games hopefully.

While the Sox are playing out the proverbial string, trying to see what young players such as Ryan Lavarnway, Jose Iglesias, and Ryan Kalish might be able to offer as they plan for 2013, there is also the hope that playing contending division rivals can raise their own level of play.

Oh, absolutely, Ross said. Atmosphere is totally different because you can see on the other side that teams are pressing and every pitch matters, every play matters, every match-up mattes. Sometimes youre playing against teams that arent necessarily in it. Youll see guys, righties facing left-handed pitchers and lefties face right-handed pitchers late in the game. Whereas, I doubt youll see a lot of that when you the Yankees come into town. But yeah, therell be a little more atmosphere, I would assume.

It should, said Clay Buchholz, who took the loss Sunday. Its been a long time since this teams been in this position. So weve got to try to grind through it right now and put some good at-bats together like the guys did today. Its not always going to happen like you want. More times than not, when you do the little things, the things you can control, I think well be able to succeed.

Despite Sundays loss, the Sox level of play was marginally better than it has been a starting pitcher going deep into a game, keeping the opponent off the scoreboard until the offense can score first in a game there is still much, much work to be done.

Whether the Sox can impact the play-off race remains to be seen. But they hope their current role the last place, doormat, cellar-dwelling Sox has at least taught them something.

Its the first time since Ive been here where thats been the case, said Buchholz. Hopefully, this feeling that everyone has in this clubhouse will make you not want to have this feeling again and were headed in the right direction.

Prepare to dominate: Lots of work goes into Sale's pitch

Prepare to dominate: Lots of work goes into Sale's pitch

Like his motion, the making of a Chris Sale start is unorthodox genius.

The ace's routine was formed in Chicago, where the Red Sox open a three-game series against the White Sox today. His plan for the usual four days between outings underscores how blessed he is, and how well the 28-year-old knows what his body needs to maintain three dominant pitches thrown at a hummingbird's pace.

MORE ON CHRIS SALE

When Sale takes the mound Tuesday against his old team, he'll have 73 innings pitched and 101 strikeouts. Those are American League-best numbers entering the week.

Even Sale, no stranger to excellence, indicated some surprise at how well his Red Sox career has begun. His ERA is 2.34.

"Would I say I'm surprised? Yeah," Sale said recently. "But at the same time, I wouldn't say I am. I'm having fun, I know that. You know, it's a very result-oriented game. But results can be very skewed. Because two guys can work the same, do the same things on the same day at the same time, and get two totally different results in this game.

"So while people like to look at the results, sometimes they can be skewed . . . I look more in my preparation than I do in the results."

Sale explained to CSNNE just how that preparation works: from his choice to eschew scouting reports, to how he has recently embraced a Randy Johnson-influenced workout routine the Red Sox use across their entire system, something called Nine Innings.

"He's such a beast," assistant strength and conditioning coach Mike Roose said. "He's in phenomenal shape. We can push him harder than maybe some other guys . . . His body's able to work at such a high level."

* * * * *

Before every Red Sox game, there's a meeting to discuss the starting pitcher's plan. The catcher attends, along with pitching coach Carl Willis and bullpen coach Dana LeVangie.

The huddles are usually quick; maybe three minutes, backstop Sandy Leon said. Of course, the pitcher typically attends as well.

Sale never does.

"We don't talk that much," Leon said of Sale.

There's an outstanding work ethic behind every start made by Fenway's greatest spectacle since Pedro Martinez. A planning meeting just isn't part of it.

"My preparation is more physical than it is mental, I guess," Sale said.

The new Red Sox ace doesn't really use video. He doesn't look at scouting reports.

Sale, then, is a throwback beyond his get-it-and-throw-it pace. He actively avoids tools that other pitchers desperately need and seek in the age of analytics.

He wants a Buddhist-like temperament on the mound, a quiet mind.

Still, it's one thing to never shake your catcher, and another to separate yourself from his thought process. That's near lunacy, unless your stuff is just that damn good.

"I guess you could look at it like that," Sale said. "I look at it for me as just clearing my mind. When I'm out there, I'm not worried about what this guy's hitting over the last X amount of at-bats. Because if I read on a scouting report that he's hitting .450 on fastballs in, I'm still going to throw a fastball in. And if I know that going in, I could be timid throwing that.

"You don't ever want to throw a pitch in the big leagues, hoping, praying, defensively. That takes all that away from me."

Sale's greatest effort in between starts, then, is to keep his stuff this devastating, to keep his lithe machine in tune, so that his mind may remain free.

"Let's face it, any athlete -- I'm probably cliche here -- but when you're just in the present, in the moment, you're going to function at your absolute best," manager John Farrell said. "And with a guy that talented, who's got that much self-confidence to go along with tremendous physical ability, he's in that place a lot."

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Roose (above), the assistant strength coach, has been in the Red Sox organization for nine years. The Cumberland, R.I., native served in Iraq and Afghanistan before he became an intern with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox -- that's rookie ball -- and worked his way up.Roose and head strength and conditioning coach Kiyoshi Momose are still getting to know Sale, but were immediately impressed.

"He's got a lot of really good physical qualities already,"  Roose said. "He's very flexible. Naturally, just by his genetics. His endurance is extremely high. He works on that [doing cardio]. You can tell. We knew right from the first week of spring training [that] endurance is something he works on.

"He has the three really important things you'd need to pitch 35 starts in the season."

That includes what Roose described as sneaky strength. Sale looks like he could use an extra burger or two, but he's better than his rotation mates at more than just pitching.

"He might squat more than all our starters, believe it or not," Roose said. "I was surprised. He surprises me sometimes."

Day 1 after Sale pitches is a recovery day. He likes to go for a run, and if the Sox are home, he'll try to do Pilates. A light workout is possible, too.

On Day 2 comes heavy lifting (as well as a shoulder program that customarily follows workouts).

"I'm not a big muscular guy," Sale said. "I'm just trying to stay long and loose as more the key to my success.

"I don't need to like do power lifting or anything like that. I mean I do squats, we do dead lifts . . . A lot of pulling. I don't do a whole lot of pushing, puts pressure on the front of my arm."

On Day 3, Sale throws his side sessions, goes through a shoulder program, and then works out.

But that workout has changed recently, to Nine Innings.

"You do three workouts, three sets of three workouts," Sale said. "Kind of equals nine innings. Raises your heart rate a little bit, gets some bloodflow."

* * * * *

Sixteen years after Johnson and Curt Schilling carried the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship, Sale has a slice of that duo's old workout plan.

Nine Innings is a pitcher's exercise circuit focusing on power and cardio work, and it's been in place with the Red Sox since Roose joined the organization in 2009.

The circuit dates back to Dave Page, the Sox' former strength coach who held that job for the 2001 Diamondbacks -- with Schilling and Johnson.

Like Schilling, Page wound up in Boston. The latter was let go after the September 2011 collapse, and Roose has overseen the program's evolution since. It exists now at every level of the Sox organization.

"Schilling was there, and then when Schilling came here, it kind of continued," Roose said of the origin story. "Now it's evolved way differently than what it was back then."

Nine Innings is tailored to each pitcher's needs before each outing, based on how they're feeling. Typically, sessions are 10-15 minutes.

"It's a series of power-based movements: plyometrics, medicine-ball throws, in kind of like a circuit fashion," Roose said. "We're also trying to get their cardiovascular system up . . . The third day is really about getting the fast-twitch muscle fibers, almost priming their neurological system to be able to repeat that intense throw."

When Sale joined the Sox, all coaches were simply learning what he likes to do. Like pitching coaches, strength coaches didn't dare tinker. Trust needs to be built.

At season's start, Sale decided he wanted to see what Nine Innings was about.

"He was just kind of like, ‘Hey, I want to try it out,'" Roose said.

The early review is great. Why? The sweat, in part.

"I love it," Sale said. "It's actually one of my more favorite days because I mean, let's be honest, you feel you get more out of it.

"It's been run on the treadmill, and then we're going to do a push-up. And then we're going to do a [medicine-ball] slam, and then we're going to do a TRX pull. Treadmill, go through that again, treadmill, go through that again, and then switch it up again."

Day 4, the final day before a start, is variable and typically very light. Sale always stretches -- hamstrings, lower body, arms -- and he might do Pilates.

He's a rubber-band man.

"I'll do push ups with a band over my shoulder, something like that for a little bit more resistance," Sale said generally. "I don't do like bench press or anything like that, and if I do, it's really low weight. Just trying to get reps, just get kind of blood flow in there.

"For me, it's just trying to stay loose and get that elasticity back and being able to get extension and really being able to get that whip back."

* * * * *

Someday, Sale won't have the benefit of youth, of the nastiest stuff, on his side.

Willis has seen a guy like this before in a previous gig, a guy who doesn't go to the little pregame pow-wows.

"Felix Hernandez when I was in Seattle," Willis said. "He didn't even care to know the lineup."

They call Hernandez "King." But Hernandez is at the stage of his career where his stuff is diminished.

"Maybe it's a little different now that his stuff's not the same," Willis said of Hernandez. "He's got more innings, he's got a little older. But I think it's that supreme confidence and a mix of pitches and action of pitches that you just have total confidence in: 'Whatever I choose to throw, I'm going to beat you with it.' "

Sale thinks that way. With the way he works, it could be a long time before he need think differently.

Robbie Ross Jr. is getting elbow checked out

Robbie Ross Jr. is getting elbow checked out

BOSTON -- Red Sox reliever Robbie Ross Jr.'s tough 2017 has reached a potentially scary moment.

Expected to be the team's lead lefty out of the bullpen, Ross has twice been demoted and struggled in the majors. Now, he's on the disabled list at Triple-A Pawtucket with inflammation in his throwing elbow — a health situation that might explain why he wasn't pitching well in the big leagues.

The Red Sox expect to know more about Ross' situation later in the week.

Ross hasn't pitched in game for Pawtucket since he was most recently optioned. If the 27-year-old was indeed hurt in the majors, it's possible he could retroactivley wind up on the major league disabled list. Ross was demoted May 19, and is on the DL retroactive to May 25. 

Per BrooksBaseball.net, Ross sat at 93 mph with his fastball on May 12. He dropped down to 92 in the following appearance, and the next two outings were at 91 mph. He averaged 94 mph in 2016.

Ross had a 7.00 ERA in eight major league appearances this year, striking out nine and walking five in nine innings. He posted a 3.25 ERA in a 2016 season where he established himself as a key member of the 'pen.

Ross said he was shocked when he was demoted for the first time this year.