Boston Red Sox

Chris Sale has to take a different approach to the first half of the 2018 season in order to stay fresh and strong in the second half. Neither he nor the Red Sox really have a choice. But at the same time, his new approach is coming with a training staff that recently hasn’t had the best track record.

It’s not a problem yet. It may never be. But it’s something to watch, because it involves the Red Sox’ most important player.

Clearly, the Sox will need to improve in the power department in order to keep pace with the Yankees’ slugging lineup and give themselves a better chance in October. But that improvement would also come with the assumption that Sale is repeating his success from the 2017 season, with an improvement upon his post-All-Star break performance.

All based off a mysterious new plan that he’s working on with the Red Sox training staff.

Sale spoke in general terms about his new regimen when he spoke to reporters in Fort Myers on Wednesday. Without getting into details, Sale explained that his approach to 2018 will be more of a slow build than his start to 2017, when he came out blazing in a way rarely seen for a Red Sox starter.

“It’s kind of like a plane takes off. Kind of that gradual build-up instead of just a heavy workload up front, and kind of maintaining that,” said Sale. “I’m confident obviously the people I have in my corner, and I’m confident in myself to be able to stay on track. It’s kind of weird doing something different than I’ve ever done. But like I said, I have faith and trust in everyone here and in myself to see this process through and make sure we’re on the positive side of things.”

Will The New Program Work?

Chris Sale (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Chris Sale (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Among the people mentioned by name who he worked with on his new program are manager Alex Cora, pitching coach Dana Levangie, head trainer Brad Pearson, and strength & conditioning coordinator Kiyoshi Momose.

Describing his offseason program in a previous interview, Sale used the dreaded T-word: “We tinkered with it a little bit, but it’s mostly more of the same.”

The Red Sox are tinkering with the ace of their staff. While that by no means guarantees failure, it’s not something that should be ignored entering 2018.

This is the same staff that worked with 2017 offseason trade acquisition Tyler Thornburg on a new maintenance program for his throwing shoulder. The reliever at least partially blamed that very program for his arm fatigue and other injury issues that kept him on the shelf for the entire 2017 season.

Something’s Gotta Give

Sale’s program, of course, will be different. And he’s a different person with a different arm. But to mess with what’s worked for him for so long is undoubtedly a major risk. And you could say the same about sticking to the same approach, which has yielded a 4.19 ERA in September and October in the past three seasons.

The Red Sox and Sale have to do something different for the ace lefty to be the same dominant power pitcher in the fall that he usually is in the spring and summer. And any Red Sox fan would take a dominant October with a slower April over the other way around. But the most cynical of observers would look at this situation and see the risk that the new program would backfire. That it would lead to a regression for the whole season – or, worse, injuries. It’s an unavoidable catch-22, and the hope is that it works out better for Sale than it did for Thornburg.

At this point, there’s not much you can do but hope. Something needs to change with Sale in order to keep him at full strength at the end of the season. But it’s fair to wonder whether those changes will pay off.

— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.