'Ghost' exorcised, Sale sure return will be strong

'I’m going to have a better elbow than I did before, and that gives me confidence going forward'

April 7th, 2020

BOSTON -- Speaking to the media Tuesday for the first time since he underwent Tommy John surgery eight days ago, Red Sox lefty expressed the determination to dominate his rehab much in the same way he has leveled opposing hitters through the years.

“I now know that I can get after this rehab,” he said. “It’s going to be nine to 14 months of just getting after it and being able to get my body back in shape, and I’m going to have a better elbow than I did before. And that gives me confidence going forward.”

In fact, Sale sounded far more upbeat compared to when last he discussed his uncertain health at a news gathering over a month ago. At that point, all Sale knew was that he had a flexor strain in his left arm. The plan was to rest for a week to 10 days and try to resume throwing.

At that point, Sale had a sound of resignation in his voice -- as if he knew that Tommy John surgery would be the inevitable outcome. It turned out he was right.

Now that he has clarity, he will tackle that structure on a daily and weekly basis.

“It’s kind of funny to say this, but I’m actually really happy with where I’m at right now,” Sale said. “I’ve been chasing a ghost for seven months right now or up to that point. To have a definitive answer, to have a finish line, [is important].

“I’ve said [it] to a few people. Everyone is like, ‘This sucks, sorry to hear about the news' -- all this stuff. For me, this is the first hard answer I’ve had in a long time, and at the end of the day I know what I’m getting. I know what’s at the end of this road.”

Sale first started experiencing left elbow discomfort following his outing at Cleveland last Aug. 13 -- what turned out to be his final start of 2019.

“I’ve had doubts, I’ve had questions, like I said, for over half a year now -- six, seven months,” Sale said. “Now, like, obviously, this sucks. I’m putting my team in a tough situation. I’m relying on guys to pick up my slack, which as you guys know, it’s not my style, it’s not my attitude, it’s not what I want.”

As such, the Red Sox are expected to lean a lot more heavily on starters like and going forward, as well as newly signed and .

However, the way Sale looks at it, he’s at least at a stage now where he can get competitive again -- and competition is what has always driven him.

“For me, this is all I have to do for the next year. I can do this with 100 percent of my focus,” Sale said. “Much like pitching, I can make this competitive. I have a chip on my shoulder -- and I guess I have a chip in my elbow, too -- and I've got to find a way to get back to who I am and what I can do as best as possible, and do whatever I can to get there.”

For insight, Sale has leaned on Eovaldi, who has undergone Tommy John surgery twice.

“I've spent a lot of time talking with Nate, and he's told me, 'Don't look at this as a year. Look at this as two weeks. In two weeks, you get your cast off, and then two weeks from then you're going to start doing range of motion, and then two weeks from then... . Set little goals, because this thing can swallow you alive if you look at this as 10 months, year, 14-15 months,”’ Sale explained.

The one thing that has become clear as Sale has done his due diligence in recent weeks is that the pitchers who aced the rehab process are the ones who have made the strongest comebacks from Tommy John surgery.

“That’s kind of making the light at the end of the tunnel a little bit brighter. If you’re telling me the only thing I have to do is work hard at rehabbing this elbow, we’re in,” said Sale. “There’s no more discussion.”

Once Sale -- whose five-year, $145 million extension kicks in this year -- does get back to the mound for the Red Sox -- which he hopes is not too far into the 2021 season -- he plans on pitching like the seven-time All-Star he is.

“I have a lot of confidence going forward to know that my elbow is going to be better than it was before," he said, "and hopefully I get 10 more great years out of it."