The plan was for the left-hander to throw two innings and a maximum of 40 pitches. But after Sale threw 26 pitches in the first, allowing no runs and striking out two, Red Sox manager Alex Cora removed him from the game in favor of righty Brandon Workman.
"I was just trying to throw strikes, it was my first time back out there in a while, it sped up a little bit on me," Sale said. "Felt like I was kind of rushing a little bit, kind of got out of some of the things I need to do to stay on top of things, but ended up getting out of it, obviously relied on my bullpen a little bit more than I'd like to, but we move on."
Prior to the second inning, Sale jogged out to the bullpen and threw the rest of his allotted pitches there.
The night started with Sale firing a 97-mph fastball to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. for a called strike. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Gurriel hit a double to deep right.
"I thought it was high leverage," Cora said. "He had to pitch from the get-go, he hasn't pitched in a while. It made no sense for me [to have him pitch the second inning]. 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."
Sale generated seven swings and misses in his abbreviated outing.
"I knew today was going to be an abbreviated start, I knew three [innings] was best-case scenario," Sale said. "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. 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."
The plan is for Sale to make his next start on Sunday against the Mets in what will likely be a three-inning "opener" appearance. After that, he will pitch at Cleveland the following weekend, then probably once more in the final homestand of the season.
All eyes will be on Sale down the stretch, as he hopes to put concerns about his left shoulder to rest.
Sale was on the disabled list from July 31-Aug. 11 with mild inflammation in his shoulder. The left-hander made a dominant five-inning start at Baltimore on Aug. 12, but he went back on the DL just prior to his next scheduled start.
Sale has been as dominant as any pitcher in the game when healthy this season, going 12-4 with a 1.96 ERA in 24 starts.
"I know today is a big day, but I think tomorrow will be a bigger day, and then the day after will be a bigger day, and see how he reacts to it," Cora said before the game. "It seems like everything should be fine. From now on, we're going to have this guy every five days on the mound."
With a sizable cushion in the standings -- the Red Sox led the Yankees by eight games in the American League East heading into Tuesday's action -- Cora will give all of his starting pitchers extra rest down the stretch.
Rick Porcello will get an extra day of rest before his start on Saturday against the Mets. David Price will pitch Wednesday night against the Blue Jays, and he's set to pitch a week from then at Yankee Stadium. Nathan Eovaldi will pitch in relief of Sale on Tuesday night against the Blue Jays, and then he will return to the starting rotation in next Tuesday's opener of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium.
"We're trying to obviously win games, and then at the same time, keep these guys sharp and rested so that they're trending in the right direction towards the end of September," Cora said. "We've been thinking about this the whole time. We did it halfway through the first half, too. It helped us out. It seemed like those guys were very fresh after the All-Star break. That's what we're shooting for, and hopefully it'll work for us."