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For Chris Sale, less is more in September

BOSTON -- Chris Sale barely broke a sweat, which was precisely the point.

Sale has made 29 starts and logged nearly 200 innings this season for the Boston Red Sox. He has thrown 3,128 pitches, most in the majors. Because he hasn't always received adequate run support, much of his work has come in high-stress situations. And coincidentally or not, four of Sale's worst five starts have come in the past six weeks.

Can you feel the dread creeping across New England?

Consider it fortuitous timing, then, that the Red Sox were off Thursday, enabling Sale to get an extra day of rest before he faced the free-falling Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night at Fenway Park. Even better, the Sox busted out for three runs in the first inning, five in the second and another in the third. Armed with a nine-run lead through six innings, manager John Farrell was able to get Sale out of the game after only 97 pitches in an easy, breezy 9-0 victory.

And when it was over, Sale could sit back, relax and acknowledge how much he needed that.

"It's nice, especially this time of year," Sale said. "These are when [the innings] start tacking on, so any added rest or little boost helps. Having that off day there re-energized everybody to come back and get after it."

The Red Sox, a virtual lock to make the playoffs, need Sale at his best if they have any chance of winning the World Series. And nobody on the roster needed a breather this week more than Sale, who got knocked around twice in August by the Cleveland Indians and faced the New York Yankees three times in a span of 22 days.

As it is, September has always been Sale's worst month, perhaps in part because he rarely was pitching in meaningful games for the Chicago White Sox. He has never reached the postseason, and with October looking like a foregone conclusion for the American League East-leading Red Sox, the rest of the month will be about getting Sale ready for what lies ahead.

"I feel good," Sale said. "I've got a lot of good people in my corner, with the training staff and the guys in the weight room. I think we've done well this year doing some things to back off and get on it when we need to. It's been working well."

After serving up three home runs last Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, Sale got back on track against the Rays, who have all but faded from the wild-card picture with three consecutive losses and six in their past eight games.

It wasn't the toughest test for Sale, nor was it particularly indicative of whether he has put his recent struggles behind him. He gave up six hits and one walk in six innings and had only one inning in which he didn't put at least one runner on base.

Then again, the Red Sox preferred that Sale wasn't put through another grind. For now, at least, less is more.

Sale acknowledged that he would have come out for the seventh inning if the outcome had been in greater doubt. But there wasn't any point in pushing him. There will be plenty of time for Sale to push hard on the pedal again. Now is the time to make sure he isn't burning out.

"If you can save 20 extra pitches, especially at the very end of the game, we're kind of looking ahead, too," Sale said. "It's part of staying on top of things and doing what we can when we can."

Sale will get an extra day of rest before his next start, too. With the Red Sox idle Monday, he isn't scheduled to pitch again until Thursday against the Oakland A's.

"Given the innings total he's at right now, the extra day this time and an extra day next time, there are things that hopefully we can take advantage of with Chris," Farrell said. "The early runs were also helpful in maybe not making so much of a stressful outing through the six innings of work. But he was able to pitch comfortably.

"We can't predict what's going to come up, but just picking our spots where we can give him some additional rest."