Sale throws bullpen session at Fenway

Cora said lefty 'looks a lot stronger than two years ago'

June 8th, 2021

BOSTON -- On a searing-hot Tuesday afternoon at Fenway Park, Chris Sale presented one of the most welcome sights of summer so far for the Red Sox. The lanky lefty stood on the bullpen mound and threw 25 pitches -- mixing in his fastball, changeup and slider.

At last, Sale’s potential return to the Red Sox this season is starting to come into focus.

There are still many more steps to take, as Sale will have to throw multiple live batting practice sessions, then make a typical Spring Training-like workload of rehab starts.

But he has every intention of helping what he believes will be a playoff-contending Red Sox team down the stretch.

“Oh, yeah, 100 percent. I mean, unless something crazy happens,” said Sale, as he knocked on a wooden table in front of him. “Yeah, I’ll be there soon enough.”

How soon is still anyone’s guess. The Red Sox aren’t putting timetables on it. Given the calendar and what Sale still has to do in terms of progression, it seems doubtful he’ll be back with Boston before August.

This is because the training staff sets the schedule and not the hyper-competitive Sale.

“I told [manager Alex Cora] I was ready for the second one in Atlanta [next week]. I want to hit,” quipped Sale. “I left it up to him though. I couldn’t tell you [when I’ll be back]. If it was up to me, I’d be starting tomorrow.”

When Cora asked trainer Brad Pearson and pitching coach Dave Bush where Sale’s bullpen session on Tuesday ranked in terms of the progression of a typical ramp-up to a season, they said to look at it as January.

There’s been some speculation that Sale could pitch in the bullpen when he comes back, because that could speed up his return to the roster. David Price did that for the Red Sox while coming back from an elbow injury in 2017.

“I haven’t really thought about that, honestly,” said Sale. “If they told me, ‘Hey, we need a guy in the bullpen and we’ll build you up there instead of doing like a rehab assignment,’ hell, I would be game for that. The quicker I can get on this team, I would like that. But that is way above my pay grade and where I’m at right now. I’m focused on my next day and getting off the mound. And whatever the next step is, take that, but I haven’t really talked about that a whole lot.”

For now, Sale is just thrilled to be out of isolation of the team’s training base in Fort Myers, Fla., and back with his teammates, whom he re-joined on Monday.

“I think throwing bullpens down in Florida was nice. I was able to spend some time with my family, really just kind of focus on what I needed to do for myself and my body,” said Sale. “But being here, the energy is definitely higher. I feel a sense of urgency when I’m around here.

“There’s nothing like stepping out on that field, even at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. You look around and it feels good. Being around the guys, watching games, throwing off the mound I’ll be throwing off of for games and bullpens and stuff like that feels good, too.”

When Sale does return, he doesn’t expect to be graded on a curve.

“I expect to be myself, be the guy that I’ve always been. I just started throwing breaking balls. The first couple weren’t pretty. My expectation level is still as high, if not higher than it’s ever been,” said Sale. “I was down in Florida, I was with [Ryan] Brasier, and I threw my first breaking ball. He goes, ‘You look like you’re confused or something. What did you expect that to look like?’ I was like, ‘I expected that to be nasty. I didn’t expect for the catcher to have to jump to catch it.’ I fully expect to be who I am and do what I do at the highest level.”

One thing that has only increased Sale’s motivation during his recovery is the way his teammates have played this season. The Red Sox, 37-23 entering Tuesday night’s game, have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball. And their pitching rotation has performed well above expectations, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by Sale.

“They’ve really done a good job,” said Sale. “I made a joke not too long ago, I’m not going to have a spot when I get back. Everyone has been carrying the torch. That’s what it’s been for most of the season honestly. It’s one right after the other. More times than not, they’ll give you a chance to win. It’s been a big part of our success.”

To Cora, the best sign on Tuesday was that Sale seemed to be 100 percent focused on pitching and not at all thinking about the state of his left arm.

“The fact that he was only talking about mechanics is refreshing. He's in a great place mentally. Physically, he looks a lot stronger than two years ago,” said Cora. “He's just excited that he's a baseball player again. It felt good to see him. It feels good to have him around. We get excited, but at the same time, we still have to be disciplined, we have to be patient. And whenever he's ready, we know he's going to contribute.”

For all the monotonous rehab Sale had to do following his Tommy John surgery on March 30, he at last feels he is in the home stretch.

“When I’m throwing, I feel normal,” said Sale. “I feel like I did when I was a kid. I don’t have this thought in the back of my mind about the surgery I had on a given throw or anything like that. I was actually saying, the last two or three weeks, I feel like I’m starting to build up as a pitcher as opposed to on a back end of a rehab. I don’t feel like I’m rehab throwing. I feel like I’m pitching throwing. That’s a good spot to be in. I’m appreciative of that.”