Red Sox ace Chris Sale has begun a throwing program at the team’s spring complex, Alex Speier of the Boston Globe reports. It’s the first throwing action for the left-hander since he was diagnosed with a flexor strain earlier this month.
Sale’s health has been an ongoing point of discussion for upwards of 18 months in Boston. The southpaw spent two stints on the injured list due to shoulder inflammation late in the 2018 season, but the Sox were convinced of his health last spring when signing him to a five-year, $145MM contract extension. Concerns escalated when Sale experienced a dip in velocity early in the ’19 season and pitched to an alarming 6.30 ERA through the end of April.
However, Sale’s velocity trended back up, and over his next 15 starts, he looked like his vintage self: 93 2/3 innings of 3.27 ERA ball with a sensational 150-to-22 K/BB ratio. Three of his next four (and final four) starts of the season were clunkers, though, and Sale went on the shelf for the remainder of the season on Aug. 17.
Sale was cleared of ligament damage last August and underwent a platelet-rich plasma injection as well as a six-week period of rest and rehab. The lefty went through an offseason throwing program but was slowed by pneumonia early in camp before undergoing an MRI that revealed the flexor strain he’s currently battling. He’s been cleared of ligament damage, but Speier notes that surgery to repair the flexor issue remains a possibility if the throwing program doesn’t go well.
The Red Sox are paying Sale $30MM in 2020 — the first season of his front-loaded extension. The delayed start to the 2020 season could give him an opportunity to return to health prior to Opening Day (the date of which remains unclear) — an outcome that didn’t appear possible just weeks ago. That would be a substantial boost for the Red Sox, as their rotation behind the lefty is mired with question marks. Eduardo Rodriguez is presently projected to get the Opening Day nod. He’ll be followed by Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez and a yet-to-be-determined fourth and fifth starter. If Sale is healthy, the Sox would only need to fill one spot; Collin McHugh (who is also on the mend), Ryan Weber, Matt Hall, Kyle Hart and Mike Shawaryn are among the in-house options.