BOSTON (CBS) — Chris Sale’s one-inning stint on Tuesday night was far from what the Red Sox are used to out of their ace pitcher, but the lefty said it’s a step in the right direction.

Sale was slated to pitch two innings (or throw 40 pitches) as Boston’s opener against the Toronto Blue Jays, but went just one after laboring for five batters. He surrendered a leadoff double by Lourdes Gurriel Jr. but promptly struck out the next two batters, Devon Travis and Justin Smoak, getting both of them swinging. After hitting Kendrys Morales in the shin with a slider, Sale ended his evening by getting Randal Grichuk on a weak popout to second.

He was lifted for reliever Brandon Workman after tossing 26 pitches in the first inning, but quickly made his way to the bullpen for more work. Sale threw another 25 pitches in the pen before calling it a night, admitting that he had higher hopes for his return.

“Even if I threw five pitches in each inning, I knew I was only going to go out there for three, so knowing that going in makes it a little bit easier,” he told reporters after Boston’s 7-2 win. “But obviously only going out there for one inning kind of sucked. I had higher hopes than that, but at the end of the day, it is what it is.”

Sale threw 14 of his 26 pitches for strikes, inducing seven swings and misses from Blue Jays hitters. At times he looked like Chris Sale, consistently hovering around 96-97 MPH on the radar gun, but he lacked the usual pinpoint location on his fastball. There were obvious signs of rust after his layoff with left shoulder fatigue, but that was to be expected for a guy who’s made two trips to the DL since the end of July.

It would have been nice to see him set down six straight batters, but Sale did get in some valuable work during his one inning. Allowing that leadoff double caused him to throw some high leverage pitches, so Boston manager Alex Cora didn’t see a need to send his ace back out there for another inning of work.

“He had to pitch from the get-go, he hasn’t pitched in a while,” said Cora. “I was the one who made the call, it made no sense to send him out there for 10 pitches, 12 pitches, whatever. We’re taking care of the guy. His mechanics weren’t there. The speed of the game, this is the big leagues. He hasn’t pitched in a while. Gurriel hits a double and he has to pitch, so I decided to take him out.”

While it was refreshing to see Sale toe the rubber again, there is still a cloud of concern with the postseason looming. The Red Sox are taking an overly cautious approach with their slender southpaw, and rightfully so, hoping he’s ready to go when October baseball finally rolls around. The plan is to have Sale make another abbreviated start Sunday against the New York Mets, this time with a three-inning limit. He’ll then start against the Cleveland Indians next week before making one final start on Boston’s final homestand of the season.

Now the focus is on how Sale and his left shoulder feel Wednesday and in the days leading up to his next outing. If all goes well, Sale will slowly progress to his normal workload and be ready to give the Red Sox everything he has when it matters most. Tuesday’s start shows he’s on his way, a baby step in the right direction, but the big question still remains: Will he be back to normal for the playoffs?

Unfortunately, we probably won’t know that answer until October arrives.

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