Chris Sale is about to face whole new ballgame in Boston, as Rick Porcello can attest

Rob Bradford
March 26, 2017 - 5:39 pm

Chris Sale will be presented some unique challenges when pitching with the Red Sox. (Butch Dill/USA Today Sports)

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- All signs point to Chris Sale being really good. He has always been really good, and looks really good so far in spring training.

Twenty-six strikeouts and two walks this Grapefruit League season, for instance, is really good.

"He's nasty, man. Unbelievable," said Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez after serving as the backstop for Sale's five shutout innings against the Twins Sunday. "A lot of movement on the ball. He's got control on the mound. He's got the ball and you know he's going to strike out 10 on the night. He's fun."

But pitching in a new organization for the first time is always an unknown, especially when that place happens to be Boston.

Sale seems like he should be able to handle his new lot in life. But, as Rick Porcello will attest, you simply never know until such an experience presents itself.

"Everybody is different," Porcello said. "Just because these were my experiences and what was going on in my head, doesn't mean that's what is going on in somebody else's head. Everybody handles things differently. [Sale's] an experienced major league player and very mature, at least that's been my experience being his teammates for a short time in spring training. He might handle his transition differently. We're all different. Some guys know how to act and make the adjustment."

True. But Porcello also represents where such a career path can offer unwelcome pitfalls.

When the current American League Cy Young award winner found himself heading into his first regular season with the Red Sox, he was 26 years old and had only known one way of doing things -- the Tigers way -- his entire professional life. And, on top of everything else, one day before the opener it was announced he was the owner of a four-year, $80 million, only amping up expectations.

What it added up to was Porcello's 2015 nightmare.

"It seems like longer than two years just because when you come over to a new place you're kind of feeling everything out and you're not really acclimated to your surroundings. And once you do get comfortable that feeling changes inside of you and it makes it seem like there has been more time passed between then and now then there really has been," Porcello said. "A lot has happened in the last two years and it definitely seems like it has been longer than that since I came over here."

Time has also allowed for some reflection on the traps that await for those heading into similar situations.

Porcello is one who pulled himself out of the abyss.

"You have to allow yourself to get comfortable on a personal level," he explained. "I think that's the part that can be a little more difficult just because you're a competitor and because you care about what you do, your natural inclination is to be the best version of yourself in a new place and to try and put your best foot forward. There are some guys who do a good job of that right out of the gate, and I think I fell into the category of putting too much pressure on myself. That made it a little more difficult. But that was all self-induced and me battling to find my own comfort zone here because everyone else had really provided that. It was just up to me at that point.

"That's what you want to do. Baseball is not like other sports where you can go in there and your effort level can basically put you above your opponent. That's not baseball. In baseball you have to have a certain amount of comfort. You have to be thinking the right way. You have to have your mind clear. Any kind of outside pressures you can put on yourself can get in the way of that."

There are plenty of examples of newcomers needing the adjustment period when facing similar circumstances. Josh Beckett, for instance, said he became more a curveball pitcher in his first year with the Red Sox because that's what he thought his new organization wanted. It didn't work out. The next year, he brought back his changeup and resulted in his best season.

John Lackey had a rough time of it that first year in Boston, although trying to impress with a damaged elbow ligament made things even more challenging.

A case could be made for David Price as representing the latest who fell victim to such a dynamic.

Sale seems ready to handle the challenges, but so did Porcello.

And while you might think that there is some sort of warning or formula a guy like the former White Sox ace can lean on, there's not. As Porcello explained, you can be the most regimented pitcher on the planet, and that still won't guarantee a life as the best of the best has always known it.

"I think that would be the easiest way to go about it but that's really difficult to do because of the new environment. Schedules. New coaches. There's everything," he said.

"There are a lot of little things. They aren't big adjustments, but it's here and there. It's really more adjusting to your new routine and your new niche in the organization that you're coming to. Bringing all of it in and then finding out what your comfort zone is. That's really the challenge. I think that is the adjustment. it's not one or two particular things. It's kind of acclimating yourself to the new environment."

Now, it's Sale's turn to find out what this new world is truly all about.

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