BOSTON — The Red Sox and Chris Sale were at a loss.
When the Dodgers hit him hard for a fifth straight start on July 15, Sale’s ERA ballooned up to 4.27, opponents were hitting .310 against him over the past month, and the ace didn’t know where to go from there.
“I’m going out there every fifth day and getting my (expletive) kicked,” a frustrated Sale said afterward. “It’s not fun. I’m still working, I’m still grinding. I’m not going to give up but it’s tough going out there every day being a liability for your team.”
Alex Cora had his entire staff pour over video. Sale’s velocity was fine, his mechanics were in tune for the most part, and the Sox couldn’t find anything in terms of tipping pitches.
So what could be done?
Ultimately, pitching coach Dana LeVangie called a meeting for a select few.
“We had a conversation about a week and a half ago, just myself, and the catchers, and Chris,” LeVangie told the Eagle-Tribune. “We talked about some things... How can we do things a little differently at times to help out his pitch mix?”
Sandy Leon, who’s caught Sale in both starts since, elaborated on what that meeting entailed.
On the mound, the catchers don’t receive any feedback from Sale. The lefty is unique in that he trusts his catchers wholeheartedly, never shaking off their first sign.
But in the meeting off the field, Sale had the floor.
With LeVangie chiming in as well, the ace was vocal as they hashed out new ways to go after hitters.
“It was good, especially listening to Sale a little bit,” Leon said. “How he feels about me and Christian (Vazquez) calling the game because he doesn’t shake. For me and for Christian, we want to be 100 percent sure of what he wants to do.
“I think the biggest thing about that was that we listened to him,” Leon continued. “The confidence he gave the catchers is big. So I think it’s more about that than any pitch he can throw, because we know he can pitch. The numbers are there. We know he can pitch. He’s been doing it for the last nine years in the big leagues. So I think it was more about listening to him, sitting down with him and listening to what he had to say to us.”
Leon certainly isn’t going to reveal the plan of attack, but did explain what the four touched on in a broader sense.
“If he wants to do something different according to game situations, man at second, man at third, we talked a little bit,” Leon said. “We talked about mixing the fastball in any count, because the fastball is good. We talked a little bit about that.”
How common are meetings like this with LeVangie and the catchers?
“We have meetings with almost every pitcher in the season, but I think Sale, it was kind of different because he doesn’t shake,” Leon said. “So having that meeting with him and just listening to him sometimes... what he’s got for us calling the game for him, it was really important for us. For the catchers.”
Since the sit down, Sale has delivered two of his best starts of the season.
Against the Blue Jays — who’d owned him this season — Sale threw six two-hit innings. Last Tuesday he threw a season-high 116 pitches and gutted out six two-run innings in Tampa Bay.
The Jays and Rays hit .143 against Sale in the two appearances — a far cry from .310 — and it’s not a coincidence that the Sox won both.
Though philosophy may be the same, gameplans vary opponent to opponent. In Toronto he was reliant on the slider, getting a season-high six whiffs with it, and he pounded the Rays with 48 four-seamers, also tops on the season.
“Right now, to be on the same page with him, it’s good right now,” Leon said.
“So that meeting, that communication between Dana, Sale, Christian and me was really good.”
Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for the Daily News and CNHI Sports Boston. Email him at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason.