Monday July 15th, 2024 1:21PM

Braves' Chris Sale rebounds to 10-2 start after years of injuries

By The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Chris Sale has become the Atlanta Braves' cut-rate ace.

An All-Star in seven straight seasons through 2018, he won just 17 games for Boston over the next five and was jettisoned to Atlanta last winter along with $17 million to cover most of his salary.

After being offloaded for a bargain basement price as if some outlet store markdown, Sale joined Kansas City’s Seth Lugo and Philadelphia’s Ranger Suárez as the major leagues’ only 10-game winners with Friday night's 8-1 victory over the New York Yankees.

“I think he’s back to where he was,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

Atlanta (42-31) is 7-1 after a five-game losing streak.

“Just like we weren’t worried when it wasn’t going well, we’re not going to sit here and throw a party when it is," Sale said. “You just got to stay consistent, stay on the job and keep pulling your weight.”

At age 35, the left-hander is 10-2 with a 2.91 ERA, striking out 107 and walking 16 in 86 2/3 innings. With one more victory, he will have as many wins this year as he did from 2020-23 combined.

Snitker attributed Sale's success to entering the offseason injury free and having a normal winter routine going into spring training. Sale wouldn't agree he's mentally free of health worries.

“That can creep up anytime. You’re never really out of the woods." he said. “I’ve been through too much to sit here and say anything like that right now. I know how this game could be. I just like to be able to sit back and appreciate what I have right now and where I’m at and who I’m doing it with. I just really got to stay focused on each and every day and not try to get too far ahead of yourself in this game.”

Sale was limited to one start from late July to mid-September in 2018 because of shoulder inflammation, then returned and helped the Red Sox win the World Series. He was rewarded the following March with a contract adding $145 million over five years through 2024.

He didn’t pitch after Aug. 13 in 2019 because of left elbow inflammation, missed all of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season following Tommy John surgery that sidelined him until Aug. 14, 2021. and didn’t pitch until July in 2022 because of a stress fracture in a rib on his right side.

He returned for two starts and broke his left pinkie when hit by a line drive off the bat of the Yankees’ Aaron Hicks. Before Sale could return from that, he broke his right wrist in a bike accident.

Sale went 6-5 with a 4.30 ERA over 20 starts last year and was traded for infielder Vaughn Grissom, who is hitting .148 for the Red Sox this season. Atlanta then replaced Sale's $27.5 million salary for 2024, which included $10 million deferred until 2039, with a $38 million, two-year deal.

“We’ve seen the great Chris Sale early in his Red Sox days over there a lot and then obviously the Chris Sale that went through a lot of injuries and battled through things,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He looked really good — secondary is excellent. I thought he was out of the heart of the plate. You see him be able to throw his two fastballs, he can reach back.”

Sale's four-seam fastball averaged 96.4 mph, 1.7 mph above his season average. His sinker averaged 96.1 mph, up 2.3 mph.

Aaron Judge and Juan Soto each struck out twice against Sale. Judge has 18 strikeouts in 30 career at-bats against him and Soto has six in seven at-bats.

“He was putting the ball where he wanted and the slider was big and it’s moving,” Soto said. “I think that’s the best Chris Sale I’ve watched since I faced him the first time.”

Sale heads a rotation that includes Max Fried (6-2), Reynaldo López (5-2) and Charlie Morton (4-3). He didn't gloat over his success against the Yankees.

“I got too much respect for the game and too much respect for those guys to say anything other than hey we battled and it just went my way,” Sale said. "I’ve been on the other side of it too.”

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