FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Red Sox revealed on Wednesday that lefty ace Chris Sale has a stress fracture in his right rib cage that will leave him off the Opening Day roster for the third consecutive season.
In fact, it is hard to gauge when Sale will be able to return from an injury he sustained 27 days ago while throwing live bating practice at his alma mater of Florida Gulf Coast University, where he had set up a camp for Boston pitchers during the lockout.
“I don’t have any idea,” said Sale, when asked when he would be back in action. “Unfortunately, and fortunately, I’ve never dealt with this problem. I know bones typically take six to eight weeks to heal. That’s a pretty universal timeline. Outside of that, I don’t know anything. I’m just kind of waiting. I’m like a dog on a chain right now. I can’t wait to get off this thing.”
Sale wasn’t allowed to talk to the Red Sox during the lockout, which is why the injury didn’t become public until Wednesday. He informed manager Alex Cora and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom last Thursday, after the new CBA was ratified.
“I got a call from Chaim and AC, and that night -- it sucked for them, obviously,” said Sale. “‘Hey, how’s it going?’ ‘Well, not so good actually.’ That’s when they became aware of it. We still don’t know exactly what the landscape going forward is going to be, other than probably a little more rest waiting for the bone to heal, and then from there, we’ll build up a plan and we’ll go from there.”
Now that the Red Sox have been able to wrap their arms around the situation, they’ll have a detailed plan designed to get Sale back on the mound as soon as he is ready. First comes the waiting game.
“He’s not throwing basically at this point. So we’re talking weeks, not days, before we can get a baseball back in his hand,” said Bloom. “Obviously everything that he does is rotational and that's what this causes problems with. He's doing a lot better now than when he first came in. But we don't know. We just know he's not going [to be] ready for the start of the season. We're talking weeks before he can start throwing again.”
With Sale temporarily out of the mix, the Red Sox will go into the season with a rotation of Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill. Sale’s absence could open up a rotation spot for Tanner Houck or Garrett Whitlock, two young righties who played crucial roles for the club last year. Houck has 16 MLB starts under his belt. Whitlock, who was coming off Tommy John surgery last year, has never started in the Majors but came up in the Yankees' farm system as a starter.
“We’re fortunate to be in a better position with respect to internal depth than we've been in the past,” said Bloom. “But it's always something that we're looking to supplement. That's actually why we went out and got some of the guys we did before the lockout, because we wanted to have different options. We wanted to have more guys than spots.”
The day Sale suffered the injury was when pitcher Matt Barnes was doing a live Instagram feed showcasing several Sox pitchers throwing BP.
“It’s the curse of social media and me. I get on social media for the first time and look what happens,” said Sale. “I was throwing a live session over at FGCU, it was a Thursday. After that [I] felt a little side discomfort, nothing too crazy. I didn’t think anything of it. Over the next probably handful of days, not only did it stick around, it felt like it kind of got worse.”
Because players weren’t allowed to have any contact with their teams during the lockout, Sale reached out to his former coach at FGCU, David Collette, who hooked him up with some of the right medical people.
“He got me in touch with Dr. Patrick Joyner, who’s in the area and got me an MRI, CT scan, X-ray, the whole thing. And that’s when they saw in the MRI [it] was a stress fracture,” Sale said. “I believe, it’s the eighth rib, so, yeah, I took some medicine and tried to get some of the inflammation out of there, and now we’re just kind of playing the waiting game, waiting for a bone to heal. That’s kind of where we’re at.”
It is frustrating for both Sale and the Red Sox. The star pitcher’s durability has been a persistent issue in recent years.
Sale suffered left shoulder woes down the stretch in 2018, but he recovered in time to help the Red Sox win the World Series. His ’19 season -- which was inconsistent -- ended on Aug. 13 with left elbow issues.
Sale tried to recover from that UCL injury through rest and rehab. But early in Spring Training of 2020, his elbow worsened again and he had Tommy John surgery that prevented him from pitching until Aug. 14, 2021.
“The last couple years have sucked,” said Sale. “I’ve run into some pretty unlucky circumstances with arm troubles and my neck and then this. But what can you do?”
What Sale will do is go full speed ahead once his rib heals.
“For me, does it suck? Yes. Was I discouraged? Absolutely. Pissed off? One hundred percent,” said Sale. “All that being said, none of those feelings, none of those emotions, none of that wasted energy is going to help me with this. I’ve got work to do. I’ve been here before. I’ve climbed much bigger hurdles. I’ve been behind rocks I thought I’d never be able to get over. This is just another one of them, another life test to get over, and all the while trying to be a good teammate, a good leader and doing the things I need to do.”
The reason this injury is so frustrating to Sale is that he felt he was finally about to have a normal season again. In fact, he felt he could get back to his dominant self again. Perhaps he still will. But it just won’t be over a full season.
“That was the biggest blow, obviously. I know it’s very cliché, but I felt I was in the best shape I had ever been in my life. Me and Nick [Pivetta] were throwing partners every day,” said Sale. “We met up at FCGU, did our stuff in the weight room, went and threw, did shoulder program. I felt like I was in a really good spot.
“I put in a lot of work to prepare myself for this moment. I built a race car and it broke down before the race started. [Now I’m] back in the garage trying to fix it up.”