FORT MYERS, Fla. — Chris Sale’s first spring training pitch a year ago clocked in at 97 mph.

Don’t expect that again in 2018.


In analyzing his 2017 season, Sale and the Red Sox have decided to use spring training more as a build-up period than they did a year ago – when Sale came out firing from the very start. The hope is that the lefty can maintain his peak form for longer this year than last, when his results dipped from August onward. That continued a career-long trend for Sale.

“Once I got home and reflected on the season, it was like, ‘All right, something needs to change,'” Sale said Wednesday. “It’s kind of weird doing something different than I’ve ever done. But I have faith and trust in everyone here and in myself to see this process through and make sure we’re on the positive side of things.”

Sale was light on details of how exactly he’d be building up this spring compared to others. Late-season fades have dogged him throughout his career, and he expressed confidence throughout last season that he and the Red Sox had taken the proper steps to prevent one.

Boston looked to build in extra days for Sale whenever possible last season, and it’s safe to assume they’ll do the same this year. Whether there are games in which the Red Sox use a quicker hook on the lefty to preserve him down the line remains to be seen.

“For me, it’s trusting the process, trusting the big picture and knowing if (Alex Cora) takes me out after the fifth or sixth inning, he’s not picking on me,” Sale said. “He’s doing what’s best for the team, and I have 100 percent faith in the coaching staff to get this done.”

EVEN IF it seems like a longshot for an out-of-options player who has yet to get a real chance as a big league regular, the Red Sox are going to give catcher Blake Swihart a look at second base.

The second base job isn’t going to be easy to win. Dustin Pedroia, recovering from knee surgery, hopes to be back by Opening Day but realistically is looking at a return in May. Brock Holt and Marco Hernandez are healthy and well-regarded, in addition to being natural middle infielders.

Swihart, a shortstop in high school who has been a catcher for most of his professional career, never has played second base. And the Red Sox gave him no specific position to work out at during his offseason, not even when he called Manager Alex Cora and asked him for one.

“He asked, ‘Where should I take ground balls?'” Cora said Tuesday. “It doesn’t matter. Go to one spot. I just want you to move your feet, and we go from there. We’re going to challenge him, and he’s up to the challenge.”

It’s a lofty challenge, to be sure. Swihart played some first base in winter ball and some outfield in 2016 before he wrecked his ankle in a collision. He never felt fully healthy in 2017 but finally thinks he’s there this spring.

He’s out of options and will be competing against Holt and Hernandez for a roster spot. If he doesn’t make the team, he’ll either have to be traded or designated for assignment.

“I see Swihart in the mix of the Red Sox on the 25-man roster,” Cora said. “This is a guy that, offensively, he’s a plus, and he’ll bring versatility to our roster.

“Obviously he’s gone through his up and downs health-wise. We know when he’s healthy, he’s very important. He’s going to catch. He’s actually taking ground balls. … You’ll see him in spring training in different positions.”

WHEN IT comes to catcher, Cora isn’t ready to show his hand. Asked several times if he wants to use one regular catcher as opposed to former manager John Farrell’s strategy of splitting the duties almost evenly between Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon, Cora wouldn’t give an answer.

“I anticipate that we’re going to have a great defensive catcher, a general behind the plate that is going to execute the game plan,” Cora said. “Both of them are capable. On a daily basis, we’ll see. And both are really, really good.”

FREE-AGENT outfielder J.D. Martinez is still being pursued by the Red Sox and the Diamondbacks. reported the D’backs are trying to get creative with short-term contracts that could be desirable for Martinez, who hit 29 of his 45 homers last year with Arizona. The Red Sox are believed to have offered Martinez a five-year deal near $125 million.

Red Sox pitcher David Price, Martinez’s teammate in Detroit, said he’s spoken to him several times.

“I told him we’d love to have him here,” Price said. “He knows that, and he’s going through his process. He put in a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of hard work to get to the point where these free agents are right now, and you usually only get to do it one time, so you want to make sure you do it right.”

Price said he has confidence in president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

“And if we have the same team we have now, I know everybody in this locker room, this clubhouse, is extremely confident in the lineup we’re throwing out there every day,” Price said.

SHORTSTOP XANDER BOGAERTS  has three years left of team control before he’s eligible for free agency, and Cora is hoping to get the best out of him.

“Xander Bogaerts is one of the best shortstops in the league,” the manager said. “You look at his numbers, you look at his on-base percentage last year (.343), it wasn’t that bad. Sometimes we talk about batting average on balls in play and all that stuff, nagging injuries or whatever. Sometimes you have a bad year. It happens. People bounce back.

“Physically, he’s up there with the best. Mentally, he’s in a good place right now. I’m looking forward to working with him on a daily basis. I was a big fan of him when he got called up, the way he slowed down the game. At that age, it was very impressive. There are certain things offensively we think he can do to put himself in a better hitting position that’s going to help him out.”

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