BOSTON -- As Chris Sale sat in the dugout at Fenway Park and spoke to the media on Tuesday, he could see the mound that he will be pitching on top of again in the not-too-distant future.
With the target finally within his sights, Sale was enthusiastic about his progress.
“Good little journey to get here, but we’re here,” Sale said. “The bulk of it is hopefully over with, and now we get to do more of the fun stuff of playing baseball and live BPs and getting into games. [I’m] just excited for that.”
Up until the last few days, it has been a frustration-riddled journey for Sale, who fractured his rib cage while throwing during the lockout and then had a non-baseball medical situation crop up in May that added another week or two to his recovery.
That is all in the past now. Sale is back on a regular pitching schedule. He threw 96 mph in a live batting practice with no fans in the stands on Monday at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla. The fact that he could generate that velocity without the adrenaline of crowd noise can only be viewed as a good sign.
Sale will expand on that exercise on Thursday when he throws two innings of BP at Fenway Park.
After that? Sale will likely head out on a Minor League rehab assignment.
Unlike last year, when Sale was recovering from Tommy John surgery and essentially had to retrain his body to pitch again, he thinks his return should be more seamless this time.
“Physically, mentally, everything, I feel like I’m ready to start this process and get going, and get back here quick,” Sale said.
Sale’s Minor League rehab could certainly be shorter if the Red Sox plan to use him as a reliever when he first returns to the active roster rather than a starter.
Would he be open to that?
“For sure,” Sale said. “I think, at this point, nothing really matters other than getting back out there. Whatever that means.”
Boston's rotation of Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Michael Wacha, Rich Hill and Garrett Whitlock has largely done the job, while the bullpen has been inconsistent, though better of late.
Eovaldi (low back inflammation) and Whitlock (right hip inflammation) are both on the injured list, but they are expected to return to action before Sale finishes his rehab.
It will be up to manager Alex Cora to determine how the pieces best fit together when Sale returns at some point in July. The case could be made that the Red Sox might be best off with Sale in the rotation and Whitlock moving back to the bullpen.
All of that will sort itself out. Sale’s impact will be sizable no matter what role he is in.
“You’ve kind of seen the evolution of our pitching staff. Different guys are hot at different times,” Sale said. “If we’ve got five guys rolling in the rotation and they’re like, ‘Hey, you’re going to go to the bullpen,' then fine. “And if it’s, ‘Hey, we’re holding it down out there [in the bullpen] and we need someone in the rotation and I slide in there,' fine.
“Luckily, we have the flexibility to do that. I have experience doing both, and at the end of the day, whatever it is, it is. For me, pitching is pitching. Strike one, strike two, strike three, get them out. Hand me the ball, I’ll throw it until you take it. That’s where I’m at.”
The fact that Sale has only pitched 51 2/3 innings for the Red Sox (including the postseason) since the start of the 2020 season is something that irks him and drives him. He is under contract with the Sox through ’24, meaning there is still time to reverse the narrative.
“Hell, what can I do? It's been tough. There’s no doubt. You guys have seen the timeline. You guys almost lived it with me for a little bit,” Sale said. “I don't want to be complacent. I don't want to say, ‘Oh, well, it happens.’ It does happen, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm not playing. I'm not helping my team. I'm as good as a sack of potatoes right now for this team. At least that would feed them.
“I'm doing literally nothing to help this team. That sucks. I don't want to lose that competitive edge of just being all right with it, because I’m not. I'll never be all right with even the freak stuff. If it's taking time away from me being a baseball player, I'm not going to be OK with it even if it is unlucky.”
Within the next few weeks, Sale’s fortunes could finally be ready to change.