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Sale upbeat after initial diagnosis brings good news

Ace left-hander expects to return during first weekend in May

DETROIT -- It didn't take much to put Chris Sale at ease Monday evening after he had an MRI on the ailing area related to the flexor muscle in his left arm.

"We came back and the first words out of the doctor's mouth were, 'Your UCL looks excellent,'" said Sale as he stood in front of his locker Tuesday in the White Sox clubhouse at Comerica Park. "It's just flexor inflammation. I don't know if it's a strain or not.

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"I heard 'UCL was excellent' and I walked out. That's all I needed to hear."

Sale officially was placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 18 with a flexor muscle strain in the inner area Sale pointed to just above his left elbow. He was replaced on the roster and for Tuesday in the rotation by Charlie Leesman, who was recalled from Triple-A Charlotte.

But the White Sox ace did not look like or sound like a pitcher with injury worries. In fact, Sale truly believes that he will be ready to return when eligible to come off the DL during the first weekend of May in Cleveland.

No rehab starts needed in his mind. No concerns about this injury becoming something worse. After all, Gavin Floyd's original diagnosis last season was a flexor muscle strain before undergoing season-ending surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament and a torn flexor muscle in his elbow.

"MRIs are pretty thorough and extensive how they show," Sale said. "Like I said, the doctor said the UCL was excellent and there was nothing wrong there.

"It showed a clear picture of it and he showed me exactly where it was and all that stuff. So for me, I just think it's more of the same of what it has been in the past.

"You are talking about missing two starts," Sale said. "Obviously, if it was to linger, which, knock on wood, I don't think there's any chance of it actually happening. If I was to miss four starts, then I think there's room for that. I think obviously a week from now I'll probably be off a mound throwing a bullpen and be ready to go for Cleveland."

During a classic mound battle with Boston's Jon Lester on Thursday at U.S. Cellular Field, Sale limited the Red Sox to just a Xander Bogaerts homer over seven innings. Those seven innings also covered a career-high 127 pitches in just Sale's fourth start of the 2014 season.

General manager Rick Hahn said Monday that he wasn't smart enough to make a direct correlation between the elevated pitch count and Sale's soreness. Sale added Tuesday that there's no telling if the injury still would have happened even if he had thrown 18 or 19 pitches fewer.

A normal side session between starts for Sale was immediately scratched on Friday by pitching coach Don Cooper, which isn't out of the ordinary even at times when Sale feels healthy. But when he still felt the soreness while playing catch on Monday, Sale knew it was time to take it to the team to get things right.

There usually is some soreness for Sale after starts, but soreness that lasts just two or three days.

"Any time you have something going on that you are not quite certain of, you want to get down to the bottom of it, regardless of whether it's good, bad or indifferent," Sale said. "Fortunately for us yesterday, it was as good of news as we could have possibly gotten.

"Just with kind of the way Spring Training and the year unfolds for a lot of pitchers, it made me a little bit more nervous just because you don't know. The thing that kind of helped me out was it was the same soreness that I usually have after a start. It was just more of it in the same spot."

Upon Monday's initial examination, which included extensive testing of the arm by the doctor, Sale was told that it was "99.9 percent sure" that it was nothing to do with the UCL. If it was, he would have been jumping off the table during the tests.

Instead, the MRI confirmed the inflammation/strain and Sale's first trip to the disabled list.

When Sale had a similar issue in '12 and didn't make a start from May 1-12 as he was moved to closer, the young man was the picture of disappointment when talking to the media after the team decision. He had almost a feeling of confidence around him Tuesday, as he plans a healthy and quick return.

"With the lack of off-days and the way the rotation is set, I wasn't available this time," said Sale of his trip to the disabled list. "I don't want to put my team in a hole by bringing up guys and putting people in situations that they shouldn't be in. So, not only was it best for the team at the time to do that, but it was best for myself."

"For him, it's a reassurance that he's fine and eventually he'll be over it and he'll be back out there," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "Any time that happens and you're feeling something different, kind of a second opinion and get pictures of it and find out you're fine, there's a relief that's there. You can tell by how he's walking around today that he feels pretty good."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin

Chicago White Sox, Chris Sale