BOSTON -- Chris Sale insists he feels good and expects to win regardless of questions over his velocity after shoulder issues, as the Red Sox ace gets the ball for Game 1 of Friday's American League Division Series against the Yankees.
Sale has thrown just 301 pitches since the end of July, with two DL stints because of shoulder inflammation. In his final start of the regular season against the Orioles, he scuffled through 92 pitches in 4.2 innings, giving up three runs and hitting two batters while averaging a season-low 90.2 mph on his fastball.
This from a guy who averaged 95.3 on his fastball over the course of the season.
"I don't care what I have on a given day, I should be able to find a way with whatever I have," Sale said Thursday. "Sometimes you go out there and have your best, sometimes you don't. This is sport. This is baseball. You have to find a way with whatever you have on any given day and roll with it. So I take the ball tomorrow and I expect to win."
When Sale initially landed on the DL at the end of July, he was in clear control of the Cy Young race and was in the midst of a dominating stretch in which he had allowed no runs in five starts. He made one start in August against the Orioles -- five innings, no runs, 12 strikeouts -- and then went on the DL again and didn't pitch for a month.
The Red Sox slowly ramped up his usage in September: 26 pitches, 42, 73 and then 92, and manager Alex Cora said there are no limitations on Sale.
"He's a full go. Just go there and perform," Cora said. "He's in a good place. He's ready to roll."
Sale and the Red Sox have said his velocity was down in that final start because of some mechanics, though it's possible Sale was holding back a bit.
"I was able to get off the mound a couple of times and work on that," Sale said, "work on using my legs, driving a little bit more. Getting a little more rotational with my lower half and staying stronger with my top half. And just trying to sharpen the tools."
Sale has tired at the end of the regular season in some previous seasons, including 2017 when he had a 4.09 ERA over the final two months and then gave up nine runs in 9.2 innings in two appearances against the Astros in the Division Series.
That was Sale's first postseason trip, and he said he can learn from the experience.
"It's the same game, strike one, 27 outs. But pitching in the postseason I think everyone knows is a little bit different. Last year, obviously I got my feet wet. Didn't do too well. But sometimes you learn from the bad more than the good."
The Red Sox are coming off a franchise-record 108 wins as they meet the Yankees in the playoffs for the first time since the epic 2004 ALCS. Sale allowed one run in 13 innings in his two starts this season against the Yankees.
"What else do you want?" he said. "You got the Yankees and the Red Sox in playoffs playing against each other. One of the biggest rivalries in sports ever. It's what we signed up for."