FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Forget about the illness that set Chris Sale back for the first few days of Spring Training and might force him to make his first start of the regular season at some point after Opening Day.
That was just a nuisance -- a temporary annoyance.
The real question on the collective mind of Red Sox Nation is this: How is Sale’s left elbow?
In his first comments to the Boston media in nearly six months, Sale provided an encouraging progress report on the injury that forced him to miss the final six weeks of 2019.
“I think I [threw] off the mound probably six or seven times this offseason,” said Sale. “My body is feeling good. Started flipping some breaking balls and getting after it a little bit. I'm doing normal stuff that I was before and it felt good. We'll just keep building from that.”
In the aftermath of the trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers, the best hope the Red Sox have of making the playoffs is for Sale to return to consistent dominance and health -- two things he lacked last season.
Sale welcomes that challenge to bounce back in a big way.
“I feel good. I feel confident that when this thing starts, I'm going to be ready for it, and I'll be back to doing what's expected of me. I have a certain expectation level when I step on the mound, and I'm going to get back to that,” said Sale.
Though the injury crushed Sale when it happened, he now thinks that the break in action could make him stronger than he’s been in a few years.
“I feel better than I have in a long time, actually,” said Sale. “I've never taken that time off before. I don't know if since I started playing baseball if I've had that time off. Obviously it's something you don't want to have to go through, that was miserable, but there are silver linings in everything.
“You try to take the positives in every crappy scenario that comes up. I think that time off helped my entire body regenerate, my shoulder, my elbow, my forearm, every muscle in my body got a long break and a time to heal. I think in the end it will help me out in the long run.”
The enthusiasm Sale gained from a productive offseason only made him more frustrated when he contracted the flu -- and then pneumonia -- in the final stretch before Spring Training.
But Sale didn’t let that get him down, either. He made the best of a less than ideal situation by being resourceful -- even in the days he was contagious and not allowed to be with his teammates.
“Even when I was sick, I have a little sport court at my house and I have a rebounder, so I was even throwing against that, just to keep my arm in shape,” Sale said. “I couldn't run, I couldn't really work out or anything, but I was able to go out there and make 60 or 70 throws a day, even feeling like crap.”
At 30 years old, Sale has full confidence that he’ll be able to make last season’s disappointment a distant memory.
“As bad as I was last year, I learned a lot, and that's going to help me going forward,” said Sale. “Last year was tough; you guys saw it. I was out there throwing batting practice half the time. But you learn from that. It makes you better, makes you stronger, mentally, physically, just try to build off of that.”
On the Astros
After Sale discussed all the requisite baseball stuff, he shared his thoughts on the sign-stealing scandal involving the 2017 Astros and also the pending investigation of the ’18 Red Sox.
“I'm a firm believer in not really dwelling on things in the past,” said Sale. “I think that moving forward, this has no effect on us. It's obviously a tough situation and put the sport in a bad light. Obviously it was the wrong thing to do. But nothing I'm going to do or say today is going to help me win a World Series. It's kind of where I'm at with it.”
Though Sale was shelled by the Astros in Game 1 of the 2017 American League Division Series -- and the Red Sox lost the series in four games -- he hasn’t spent much time obsessing about whether Houston gained an unfair advantage that day from the trash barrel scheme.
“Yeah, it sucks,” said Sale. “But what am I going to do? Am I going to hold them at gunpoint? Am I going to sit here and curse them out through a bunch of cameras? If I have something to say to them, I know those guys. I can get one of their numbers and text them and talk to them face-to-face or whatever. It happened. What are you going to do about it? You can sit around and cry about it or I can get my ass to work and try and win a championship.”
And the Red Sox?
Sale acknowledged that he did speak to MLB for the investigation on whether the 2018 Red Sox used technology to steal signs and he was more than happy to talk to them.
“They asked me, ‘Hey, you want to talk to these guys?’ and I said, ‘Yeah I do.’ Because I want to help make this right,” said Sale. “Is it frustrating? Yeah. It took 30 minutes out of one of my days in the offseason. Whatever. But to get the truth and to make this a better game, I'm in. That's what I've talked about basically this whole interview, getting all this right and making this a better game when I leave.”
Sale joined J.D. Martinez, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and a cast of others in expressing his belief that Boston players didn’t cheat during their championship season.
“I know, given the circumstances, with what happened in Houston and AC [Alex Cora] being our manager, I think they're just doing their due diligence, just to see if he brought it over here,” Sale said. “I don't know how much longer it's going to take. Hopefully it will be over soon and we'll get to see the truth.
“It's under investigation right now. Until that comes out, no one's going to believe what I say. We can sit up here as players and an organization and say all the things we want, but until the hammer drops, that's when the truth comes out. Just kind of wasted breath for me to sit up here and keep talking about it.”
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.