BOSTON -- Savor Sale. And maybe save him, too.
Down the stretch, the Red Sox could have some tough choices to make with Chris Sale, who’s on his way to having a great all-time season, particularly for a starting pitcher this century.
Should the Red Sox let the lefty loose on Pedro Martinez’s club record of 313 strikeouts and 13.20 Ks per nine innings, both set in 1999? Or, if at all possible, should the Sox hold Sale back some nights, with an eye on preservation and the postseason?
If Sale keeps up his present pace, he’s taking down Pedro in total Ks.
After Tuesday’s 4-0 win over the Mariners, Sale is 21 starts into the year and has 211 strikeouts. He leads the majors in strikeouts per nine innings, at 12.80, and is averaging seven innings per start. A projected schedule for the rest of his season, one that’s just a guess and works in several turns on five days rest, has a dozen starts remaining for Sale. That would give him 33 on the season.
If each one lasts seven innings, he’d finish with about 232 1/3 innings in the regular season and 330 strikeouts (based on his performance so far).
Those whiffs come at a cost, though. Sale is averaging a major league-high 110 pitches per game after 115 tosses Wednesday. Justin Verlander is the next closest, at 107 1/3 pitches per outing.
If the American League East stays tightly packed, there may be no way the Sox can reasonably afford Sale breaks. They’re already making an effort to get him five days rest rather than the normal four.
But if there are nights when the Sox can comfortably keep Sale’s pitch count closer to 100, or pull him after six innings rather than seven, should they?
Most players and teams would say the postseason is what everyone plays for. Sale all year has avoided talking about the Ks.
“I have a job to do,” Sale told reporters in Seattle on Wednesday after fanning 11. “I’m not here for strikeouts. I’m here to get wins. That’s all that really matters at the end of the day, honestly.”
It’s not all that matters, though. People want to see history made. Red Sox fans might even tune in for it. (Secretly, Sale might even like the idea.)
Sale, the modern-day Randy Johnson, has not allowed a run in 20 2/3 scoreless innings since the All-Star Break, a span of three starts. He has a 1.04 ERA in July with 56 strikeouts. Every one of his road outings this year has included at least nine strikeouts, and 14 of his 21 starts overall have featured 10 or more.
Unsurprisingly, the only Sox pitcher with more double-digit strikeout games in a season is Martinez, who had 19 in 1999 and 15 the next year. The last time any pitcher had 14 double-digit K games was 2002, when Curt Schilling had 14 and the Big Unit had 15.
Records may fall, but there's a balancing act waiting to unfold.