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by: John Tomase on Mon, 04/10/2017 - 5:44pm
Chris Sale is the real deal, and man, does Dave Dombrowski need it.
The Red Sox left-hander has looked every bit the ace the Red Sox expected him to be when they acquired him this winter in a blockbuster from the White Sox, surrendering top prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech.
The hope and expectation was that Sale would give them everything David Price did not last year -- consistent dominance atop the rotation as an every-fifth-day beacon for manager John Farrell to tether himself to in strong seas.
This is important for the Red Sox baseball operations boss, because putting aside the flu currently trampling the team like Bo Jackson, Dombrowski's moves have drawn increasing skepticism.
Price, his $217 million free-agent splash, struggled to find his footing last year before getting bombed in the playoffs and then showing up at spring training with a damaged elbow that has put his 2017 season in doubt.
Reliever Carson Smith, acquired last year despite concerns over an unorthodox delivery, blew out his arm and underwent Tommy John surgery. His replacement, Tyler Thornburg, was acquired at the cost of three prospects despite serious arm issues. He started the year on the DL with shoulder pain.
Left-hander Drew Pomeranz, acquired from the Padres as the highest of buy-highs at last year's trade deadline, was already damaged when he arrived, unbeknownst to the Sox. When MLB gave them a chance to reverse the deal for highly regarded pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza, Dombrowski declined, reasoning that his chance to acquire pitching help had already passed and that he'd take his chances with Pomeranz. The left-hander makes his debut on Tuesday after opening the year on the 10-day disabled list.
Even closer Craig Kimbrel, acquired at the steep cost of four prospects, has proven to be something less than a certainty. Meanwhile, one of the players shipped out in the deal, center fielder Manuel Margot, is off to a blistering start for the Padres.
Dombrowski needed a win to show ownership his decisiveness shouldn't be viewed as recklessness, with not much to show for the hits he has dealt the farm system.
Sale is giving it to him.
The left-hander dominated the Pirates in his first start without a win to show for it, thanks to a game that stayed scoreless until Sandy Leon's walkoff homer in the 12th. On Monday against the Tigers he was even better, limiting Detroit to five hits in 7 2/3 innings and striking out 10. He made just a couple of mistakes, and Detroit turned them into an Ian Kinsler solo homer in the sixth and then Nick Castellanos's game-winning single in the eighth.
Had the Red Sox been able to muster any offense against Tigers starter Justin Verlander, the hits wouldn't have mattered. As it is, they hardly detracted from a tremendous performance that saw Sale routinely top 96 mph with his fastball while also featuring a devastating slider that had the Tigers hacking all afternoon.
While it would've been nice for Sale to find a way to gut out the 1-0 win, it's hard to question his results thus far. He owns a 1.23 ERA through two starts, but more than numbers has been his performance, which can best be described as overpowering. He was still throwing 98 mph in the eighth inning on Monday, able to paint one corner with his heater, or bury his slider on the other from the same arm angle. The Red Sox haven't had a pitcher look this filthy since Pedro Martinez.
That's tremendous news for Dombrowski, who has mortgaged a huge chunk of the future to make the Red Sox contenders right now. He needs one of his marquee acquisitions to live up to the advanced billing, and thanks to Sale, he finally has one.