3:25PM: Sale threw three innings of work rather than his scheduled two in his first rehab outing today, Alex Speier of The Boston Globe reports. The left-hander allowed three singles in his three shutout frames, and threw his fastball in the 94-95mph range, reaching as high as 97mph. As for Houck, manager Alex Cora told Speier and other reporters that Houck will probably start against the Blue Jays on Wednesday, and be used in the bullpen for Boston’s current series against the Yankees.
11:37AM: Chris Sale is going to begin a rehab assignment today, according to Jen McCaffrey of The Athletic. Additionally, the Red Sox are planning on recalling Tanner Houck today, according to Dan Roche of WBZ.
As noted by Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe, this would be Sale’s first game since August 13th, 2019. Shortly after that, he was shut down with elbow inflammation but was not recommended for Tommy John surgery. Sale tried to come back for the 2020 season but eventually did require Tommy John and underwent the procedure in March of 2020, missing the entirety of that season.
Without Sale, the Red Sox floundered and wound up last in the AL East, finishing the shortened season with a record of 24-36. However, 2021 has been a complete reversal so far, as the club finds itself atop the division with a record of 55-36. Despite their strong placement in the standings, the rotation has not been a strong suit for them. The starters as a whole have produced an ERA of 4.47, 21st-best in the majors, although advanced metrics are a bit more charitable, with a FIP of 3.86, xFIP of 4.11 and a SIERA of 4.20. Concerns over the rotation have also become heightened lately. Garrett Richards has put up an ERA of 6.45 and Eduardo Rodriguez one of 5.35 since the start of June. Martin Perez and Nick Pivetta have not been much better, at 4.76 and 4.85 during that same timeframe, respectively. Nathan Eovaldi has been excellent but always comes with injury concerns. He’s he hasn’t surpassed 125 innings in a season since 2015 and has already tallied 103 1/3 this year.
Sale has been one of the best pitchers in baseball during his career and, if healthy, he would be a gamechanger for any rotation. From 2012 to 2019, Sale hurled 1535 1/3 innings with an ERA of 3.05, a strikeout rate of 30.8% and walk rate of 5.5%, which produced 42.8 fWAR and helped the Red Sox win the 2018 World Series in the process.
As the trade deadline approaches, the health and performance of Sale could impact the urgency with which Boston pursues rotation upgrades. The club has stayed under the luxury tax line so far, but just barely. (According to Roster Resource, their luxury tax hit is $208MM, just below the first threshold of $210MM.) That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room, if they insist on limboing under that line. But a healthy Sale would be a bigger upgrade than any trade acquisition they could hope to land in a trade.
In the meantime, the pitching staff is hoping for a boost from Houck as they begin an important series against the Yankees. Houck has put up a 3.07 ERA with 19 Ks and 3 BBs in 14 2/3 innings in Triple-A since returning from a flexor tendon strain.