By Tony Massarotti

BOSTON (CBS) — Chris Sale will make his Red Sox debut on Wednesday, and he has a reputation for being a competitor on the mound. Case in point: over the last two years, Sale has hit 30 batters, tied for first in baseball with Jimmy Nelson.

Nothing wrong with a little bit of nasty, right?

And now that he’s teamed with Rick Porcello, the Red Sox might actually have two guys at the top of the rotation who will throw inside, the consequences be damned.

Let’s go back to Opening Day for a second. In the fourth inning, Francisco Cervelli came to the plate and belted a ball toward the triangle in right-center field that Jackie Bradley ran down before crashing into the side of the Red Sox bullpen. You undoubtedly remember the catch. What you may not remember is the pitch, circled here in blue – a fastball down and away. You can even see Cervelli starting to reach for the ball as he begins his swing.

1 Massarotti: Porcellos Nastiness On Display In Opener, Bodes Well For Top End Of Red Sox Rotation

(Screen shot via MLB.com)

Here’s the result of that pitch:

Now say what you want about Cervelli, who’s a decent hitter, but he had one home run all of last year. When a guy like that starts driving a ball to the deepest part of Fenway Park, well, a pitcher may not like it.

So what did Porcello do? The next time Cervelli came up, in the seventh, he whipped a two-seam fastball up and in that knocked Cervelli (who dramatically reacted) on his back. On the next pitch, Porcello did the exact same thing. This is what the image looked like after the first of the two pitches, the ball having already disappeared in catcher Sandy Leon’s glove:

2 Massarotti: Porcellos Nastiness On Display In Opener, Bodes Well For Top End Of Red Sox Rotation

(Screen shot via MLB.com)

To his credit, Cervelli didn’t overreact on the second pitch – though he did look up at catcher Leon with an inquisitive look on his face. With two fastballs under the chin clearly in Cervelli’s mind, Porcello then threw a fastball down and away again – for a called strike. Just like that, Porcello had reclaimed the part of the plate that Cervelli owned in the previous at-bat.

Again, to his credit – and as a testament to his competitiveness – Cervelli hung in there and ended up doubling off the left-field wall, albeit on a ball that Porcello threw on the inner half of the plate. Nonetheless, the entire sequence helps illustrate the “game within the game” that can take place in Major League Baseball – without any stupidity of a player charging the mound – and highlight the benefit of pitching inside.

Oh, we almost forgot: behind Sale and Nelson in hit batters over the last two seasons? Porcello with 23. Last year, Porcello hit a career-high 13 batters. He had the best year of his career and won the American League Cy Young Award.

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