Red Sox ace Sale eager to return, as team preaches patience
Chris Sale: Great pitcher, lousy patient.
Moments after Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters "We've got to be disciplined," his injured ace showed that might be the biggest challenge in his comeback from Tommy John surgery.
"If it was up to me, I'd be starting tomorrow," Sale said after throwing 25 pitches in a bullpen session at Fenway Park on Tuesday, joking: "I told AC I was ready for the second one in Atlanta (in eight days), because I want to hit. I left it up to him, though."
A seven-time All-Star, Sale was 103-62 with 2.89 ERA in his first nine major league seasons, joining the Red Sox in 2017 and leading them to the World Series championship the next year. But he had the worst year of his career in 2019, posting a 6-11 record with a 4.40 ERA, and then he missed all of last season following March 2020 surgery to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow.
The operation usually requires a minimum of 12 months of rehab, but can take as much as two years. Cora said Sale was progressing well; according to the coaching staff, Tuesday's bullpen session was like one a pitcher might throw in January as he prepares for spring training.
"I'm just excited that he's a baseball player again. And now we've just got to be patient," Cora said. "We're not talking about how we're going to use him, or when we're going to use him."
But Sale is.
Although he paused to knock on wood, the 31-year-old left-hander said that he "100%" plans to be back this season, "unless something crazy happens." He volunteered to go to the bullpen if that would help him avoid a minor league rehab stint.
"The quicker I can get back to this team, the better," he said.
In a rare show of patience, Sale acknowledged those decisions will be made by the front office, coaching staff and doctors.
"I can't put myself in the lineup. I can't take myself off the DL," he said. "All I can do is tell these guys how I feel."
Sale said working out at the team's complex in Fort Myers, Florida, allowed him to focus on his rehab while spending time with his family. But returning to Fenway Park and rejoining his team has given him an energy boost.
"I feel a sense of urgency when I'm here," he said. "There's nothing like stepping onto that field, being here for games, throwing off the mound I'll be throwing off in games."
In his absence during the pandemic-shortened season last year, the Red Sox went 24-36 and finished last in the AL East. Through 60 games this year, they are 37-23 - the third-best record in the major leagues and one-half game behind Tampa Bay in the division.
One of the strengths: the rotation of Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Martín Pérez, Eduardo Rodriguez and Garrett Richards. Red Sox starters have lasted at least five innings 50 times, tied for the most in the majors.
"They've really done a good job," Sale said. "I made a joke not too long ago, I said, 'I'm not going to have a spot when I come back.' That's been a big part of our success."