Red Sox lefty on pace for rare 300-strikeout season
By Mark Newman
With his next start slated for Tuesday against the Orioles, Boston's Chris Sale leads the Major Leagues with 52 strikeouts, putting him on pace to become the first American League pitcher to strike out at least 300 batters in a season since Pedro Martinez whiffed 313 batters for the Red Sox in 1999.
That was the same season Martinez struck out at least 10 batters in a Major League-record eight consecutive games, and Sale knows all about that. In 2015 with the White Sox, Sale tied that record. Now the Pedro streak is invoked again, because if Sale strikes out at least 10 Orioles, then he will join Martinez as the only Boston pitchers to reach 10-plus in five straight games.
This is all very good news not only to a Red Sox organization that sent four prospects to the White Sox to acquire Sale, but also for more real-life matters involving U.S. military veterans. Sale has joined Jacob deGrom (44) of the Mets, Corey Kluber (37) of the Indians, Michael Fulmer (26) of the Tigers and Felix Hernandez of the Mariners (22) to comprise the unique "Carhartt Starting Rotation" that is being tracked with the hashtag #Ks4Vets to help a cause close to each pitcher's heart during the regular season.
For every strikeout recorded by these five pitchers -- 181 so far -- Carhartt, America's leading workwear brand, will donate $100 to Helmets to Hardhats, a national nonprofit program that helps military service members successfully transition back into civilian life by offering them the means to secure a quality career in the building and trade industry. Carhartt will donate an additional $25,000 to Helmets to Hardhats if the Carhartt Starting Rotation exceeds the strikeout total of every other team's top five starting pitchers on the season.
"I love going to the mound every fifth day to help my team win games. But this year, I have another motivation to pitch well," Sale said. "All season long, when I succeed, our military veterans succeed. I will take that motivation with me to the mound every game."
If the five Carhartt starters each match their season-best strikeout total, then the total donation for individual strikeouts would be $112,800. Those previous bests were 274 by Sale in 2015, 269 by Kluber in '14, 248 by Hernandez in '14, 205 by deGrom in '15 and 132 by Fulmer as a rookie last season.
In that historic 2015 season for Sale, his 274 whiffs came in 31 starts -- 8.8 strikeouts per start. He has made five starts for Boston so far, and his strikeout totals over the past four were 10, 12, 13 and 10, respectively. Martinez said Sale reminds him of himself, because he "looks intimidating," more than any Boston pitcher since himself.
Let's say Sale keeps the streak going against Baltimore and adds 10 more to make it 62 through six outings. Multiply that by five to project 30 starts this season, and you have 310 strikeouts -- with probably another start or two still to come, based on his recent history.
Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers struck out 301 in 2015, and he was the only pitcher since 2002 to reach the 300-K's mark. That year, both Randy Johnson (334) and his D-backs teammate Curt Schilling (316) reached that level. And speaking of Johnson, Sale's 52 strikeouts are second most for a pitcher in his first five starts for a team. Big Unit had 55 for Arizona in 1999.
No matter how you look at it, Sale is on track so far for a very special strikeout season. What matters more to the Red Sox and their fans is obviously the lack of run support he has received so far, most notably in his last outing against the Yankees when he dropped to 1-2.
But we'll leave that for other forums. This is about strikeouts, and about helping others. With Sale, Carhartt could not have asked for more. In fact, they have the top two strikeout artists this season in Sale and a resurgent deGrom. Kluber entered the week tied for 12th in MLB entering his next scheduled start on Tuesday. Fulmer has picked up where he left off after winning AL Rookie of the Year Award. They will have to pick up some slack for King Felix, who is expected to miss three to four weeks with shoulder bursitis.
The "rotation" concept is an expansion of what Carhartt did last year when it teamed up with Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner to donate $125,500 to Helmets to Hardhats. With that money, the organization helped more than 120 veterans receive training and secure a career in the construction trades. The MLB Players Association supported the expansion of the program to include the five star pitchers, and Carhartt expects more money to be donated this season.
"The men and women who serve in the armed forces and work in the construction trades epitomize the meaning of hard work," said Tony Ambroza, Carhartt's senior vice president of marketing. "That's why we're proud to partner with Helmets to Hardhats in expanding the Strikeouts for Vets program this year. We're confident that we've put together a group of pitchers that will outwork them all, and we look forward to writing a large check in support of Helmets to Hardhats at the end of the season."
"Last year's Strikeouts for Vets campaign was a great success," said Darrell Roberts, executive director of Helmets to Hardhats. "Beyond the monetary donation, it increased awareness of building trades apprenticeships and construction career opportunities throughout the United States. We look forward to another year of partnering with Carhartt and the pitchers, whose efforts are going to enable us to change veterans' lives by assisting them in finding and beginning a new career."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.