BOSTON -- The Red Sox made a jarring roster move prior to Saturday’s game against the Orioles when they placed lefty ace Chris Sale on the 10-day injured list with left elbow inflammation, retroactive to Wednesday. Righty reliever Ryan Brasier was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket to take Sale’s spot on
BOSTON -- The Red Sox made a jarring roster move prior to Saturday’s game against the Orioles when they placed lefty ace Chris Sale on the 10-day injured list with left elbow inflammation, retroactive to Wednesday. Righty reliever Ryan Brasier was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket to take Sale’s spot on the roster.
The news comes just after Sale put together back-to-back dominant starts in what has been the most inconsistent and frustrating season of his decorated career.
Sale was upset enough by the news that he told the Red Sox media relations staff he needs some time to gather himself before speaking with the media.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said that Sale was most upset about the team putting him on the IL, taking away the possibility he can make his next scheduled start on Tuesday night against the Phillies.
But there is clearly some uncertainty -- which results in uneasiness -- when it comes to the extent of Sale’s injury.
“I cannot answer that, really,” said Dombrowski. “There’s going to be further evaluations. This all happened today. Our doctors have looked at the MRI. We’ll have other doctors look at the MRI, too, so we’ll have further information that we’ll be getting over the next couple days. Tomorrow we won’t get any because [of] it being a Sunday. We’re in a situation where I don’t really know where it’s going to take us at this point.”
Do the Red Sox expect Sale to pitch again this season?
“I don’t know. I don’t know one way or another at this point, before we have more information,” said Dombrowski. “The other doctors will look at his information, look at his MRIs and then he’ll determine if he wants to go see them or not. The first one will be Dr. [James] Andrews.”
Andrews is the most renowned elbow specialist in sports, so his opinion could have a large impact on what course of action the Red Sox will take with Sale.
In Spring Training of 2017, Red Sox lefty David Price went to visit Andrews and later admitted he feared he would need Tommy John surgery. In that case, Andrews told Price he had a “very unique elbow” and was able to pitch again that season.
The best-case scenario is that Sale’s injury isn’t a major one.
The Red Sox signed Sale to a five-year, $145 million contract extension in Spring Training and did a full medical work-up at that time, at which point the elbow was sound.
“I’m concerned about it, contract or no contract, any time a pitcher has an elbow [injury],” said Dombrowski. “But I’ve also had a lot of people have injuries, come back and they’re fine pitchers. So, it really doesn’t weigh into the situation at this point. We just want him to get well, and we’ll see what happens.”
Dombrowski said Saturday’s MRI made it clear that the inflammation came from Sale’s start against the Indians on Tuesday, and not an injury he’s pitched through this season.
Sale told the Red Sox he didn’t feel anything during that start, when he struck out 12 over 6 2/3 innings against the Indians, and reached the 2,000-strikeout mark faster than any pitcher in history.
“On Wednesday, he felt some stiffness, a little more than normal,” Dombrowski said. “Didn’t say anything to anyone. Thursday, the same thing. Felt a little more stiffness, didn’t go away by Friday. So he came in and told the training staff yesterday. I don’t know the exact time he told them, but I didn’t find out until after the game.
“They told me after the game last night that he had some stiffness. And at that point, they said, ‘OK, let’s make sure we get this checked out.’ So he got an MRI performed today. They showed that there was inflammation in there in the left elbow. So he didn’t say anything to anybody, at least with our club until yesterday, because he didn’t think much of it at that point.”
At times, Sale has looked like his vintage self this season, such as when he struck out 17 and walked none against the Rockies on May 14. But there have also been stretches that the seven-time All-Star hasn’t looked anything like the elite pitcher he’s been throughout most of his career. It has added up to a 6-11 record and 4.40 ERA in 25 starts.
With the Red Sox 6 1/2 games back of the second American League Wild Card spot, the injury comes as a huge blow to the team's rotation that is also without Price, who is also on the 10-day IL recovering from a cyst in his left wrist.
However, Price could be back soon, as he was scheduled to throw a bullpen session prior to Saturday’s game. Flame-throwing righty Nathan Eovaldi, who had been in the bullpen since returning from the IL last month, will go back in the rotation on Sunday.
Dombrowski said the Red Sox haven’t decided who will pitch in Sale’s spot on Tuesday. Lefty swingman Brian Johnson is an obvious candidate.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.