PORTLAND – The first pitch was thrown at Hadlock Field minutes before 6 p.m. Tuesday night, with crowds of fans still waiting to go inside along Park Avenue. Inside, there was no empty seat in the house. Rare chance to see one of baseball’s best performances.
As Chris Sell continues his long, arduous journey from Tommy John surgery to now an imminent return to the Red Sox, this is the part of the process he looks forward to most. Finally the opportunity to compete.
This wasn’t just another rehab start in a double-A game for sale. His own personal progress was certainly important, but he treated it as if it were any start in his major league career. And he was well informed about the stakes in the game, as the Portland Sea Dogs pulled off a 13-game winning streak in their matchup against the Harrisburg Senators.
“I was certainly aware of the pressure today,” Sales said. “These guys are 13-game winners, so I definitely wasn’t going to come here and mess around.”
He certainly didn’t. At the start of the second rehab of his return, Sell took another step forward. The Red Sox ace went on to dominate his Double-A opposition like he should have more than 3 2/3 shutout, no-hit innings. He went for one and hit a six, leaving the Harrisburg batsman looking silly with swings and misses on his slider. He touched 98 mph with his fastball, sitting consistently at 94-96.
It looked like a sale of old.
There were plans to go up to 50-55 pitches for sale. After the strikeout of Eldrem Corredor, he was dismissed on 49 pitches. He wore his cap to the crowd, which gave him a standing ovation as he left the field.
“It’s definitely the funniest part for me,” Sales said. “I live over here. I’m not someone who likes care or treatment or everything else. I like getting behind it. So for me, it’s more my scope. It’s what I’m comfortable with.” And the more repetitions I can get at higher leverage and actually let it eat more, I’m going to get better at it. …
“Today was a good day. Definitely a step in the right direction. It felt good throughout the game, even in the third or fourth inning, it felt like I was trying to build up some arm speed and pitch when needed. I was able to, which is important at this stage of the game. But I’m having a hard time buying it all. I’m still competing, I still want to win. I want to be successful. I’m on my team. Want to help, whatever the team. All that stuff is good at the end of it, but while I’m there, my motor is going.
There will be a sale in Portland for sale Wednesday, but plans beyond that are unclear.
“I don’t even know what’s next for me,” Sales said. “I know I’m going to show up here (Wednesday), get my job done and see where that takes me.”
Sales should theoretically start at least three more rehabs, each with continued progress. The Red Sox have said they want him to reach at least five innings before he is finally active, which should come sometime in August.
Upon his return, Sail, 32, expects a long second half of his career. He said during his Tommy John recovery that he was preparing to do at least one more pitch. He said on Tuesday that he hasn’t made any major mechanical adjustments – there are some minor things with his delivery to help his consistency. The biggest change is coming with their nutrition.
Sell admitted that he was a poor eater during the first half of his career, and although this did not hinder his previous performances, he felt it was a necessary change.
“I made a lot of changes with junk food and processed goods and gluten,” Sale said. “The list goes on like that. Looking back now, I didn’t really care about that aspect of my life. How was I filling my body with what I was eating. You ask my peers I would show up on game day with a bag of McDonald’s or Taco Bell and that was my pregame meal to take to the pitch. This mixed with a slightly better sleep pattern and more hydration, I think helped me a lot is.
He’s itching for a comeback, though that could happen soon. Sell spent some time in the first half with the Red Sox as he made parts of his rehab work at Fenway Park, and he mostly watches games with his family while hollering on TV.
Although Red Sox manager Alex Cora has him pumped as a trade deadline takeover, once he eventually returns, the sale isn’t putting any extra pressure on himself. He wants to add to what they can what they are already accomplishing.
“Quite exciting. It’s fun,” said Sales. “For me, just being able to sit back and see what these guys have been up to carrying loads all year round, I’m here to save anything. I’m not coming. I’m not coming to do anything. I’m doing what I’m doing and helping the team. They’ve done that for the most part of the year so far.
“They’ve put it down really well in every aspect. They’ve got one of the best offenses in the league, our starting pitch has put it down and our bullpen is the nail when we need them. I I’m just looking to keep the ball rolling.”