His latest flirtation came Sunday against the San Diego Padres in his third start since coming off the disabled list because of a strained flexor muscle in his left arm.
Sale was perfect into the fifth inning before the Padres’ Chase Headley crushed a towering home run to left field. It was merely a blip on the radar as Sale cruised to a two-hitter in his first complete game of the season and sixth of his young career.
“I don't see why he couldn't,” catcher Tyler Flowers said when asked if Sale could throw multiple no-nos before his career is all said and done. “But that said, that's not necessarily our mindset out there. Especially assuming he's on a pitch count today, we’re really trying not to waste too many pitches, especially with how good everything was and with how he was locating. We'll take one shot at a guy and then we'll make him put it in play.”
In each of his last four starts, Sale has brought either a perfect game or no-hitter into play, and one of those starts was before he went on the disabled list in April.
His combination of mid-90s velocity, with a sweeping slider, devastating changeup and three-quarter arm deliver, has always reminded manager Robin Ventura of another dominating left-hander who has a perfect game and a no-hitter to his credit. Randy Johnson was in Ventura’s heyday what Sale is becoming now.
“Yeah, he’s probably the closest comparison just because of the (arm) angle,” Ventura said. “They were both tall and skinny and left-handed. That’s probably the closest comparable.”
Sale might lack Johnson’s high-90s velocity and massive wingspan, but he is learning to dominate nonetheless, especially since he has returned from his injury. In three starts since his time on the DL, he has thrown 18 innings, while allowing one run on three hits. He also has 23 strikeouts in that stretch.
“I’m just trying to do what I always do, fill up the zone and throw quality strikes and get as deep as I can into games,” Sale said about his recent success. “As a starting pitcher, that's your job, go out there and get as far as you can and hopefully when you leave, you’ve got a lead.”
Ventura credits Sale's recent dominance to a clear mind.
“I think you go through a period where you pitch a few innings, you get a breather and get a shot of adrenaline of feeling strong and healthy and you go back out there and (there's) nothing on his mind right now,” Ventura said. “Before, he would have probably had something if it was nagging of bothering him physically and right now nothing is doing that.”
Sale’s next chance at dominance will come next weekend against the Los Angeles Angels. On May 18 of last season, Sale retired the first 19 Angels batters in a game, finishing with a one-hitter while facing just 28 batters in a complete game.
Sale won’t say, though, that the rare no-hitter feat is something that he expects to happen one day, even if others around him can see it coming.
“I wouldn't go that far,” Sale said. “It's tough. That's why it so tough to do that. I've been pretty deep into a few games this year but that's why you gotta respect those guys and appreciate when it does happen, perfect games, no hitters, stuff like that, because it's next-to-impossible.”
The hardest part of all might be to ignore it when it is happening. It’s not so easy when scoreboards all around the ballpark show the opponent without a hit, all while knowing you haven’t pitched out of the stretch all night.
“Obviously you know what the circumstances are, but you try not to pay attention to it,” Sale said. “Going into it, obviously the odds are not in your favor, so you try not to be too perfect.
“Sometimes you start thinking about that kind of stuff and you try to nitpick because you don't want to give up the hit, then you end up walking the guy and this happens, that happens. Just don’t worry about it. If it happens, it happens, if not you’re just like everyone else in the world.”