The Red Sox have announced that Chris Sale “underwent an open reduction and internal fixation of a left fifth finger proximal phalanx fracture” today. While the timeline isn’t crystal clear at the moment, the team believes it’s still possible for Sale to return later this year. (Twitter links from Chris Cotillo of MassLive and Chad Jennings of The Athletic.)
Yesterday, Sale had to leave his start against the Yankees without getting out of the first inning after a comebacker struck his pitching hand, clearly injuring it. The Red Sox later announced that his pinky finger, or “left fifth finger,” was broken. After the game, Sale himself said he expected to miss 4-6 weeks, though the fact that surgery was necessary raises the potential that a longer recovery time might be required.
In a lengthier look at the issue, Cotillo speaks to orthopedic surgeon Chris Geary, who believes that Sale won’t even be able to pick up a ball for 4-6 weeks. That means it would be late August before Sale can even begin to throw bullpen sessions, which wouldn’t leave him much time to go on a rehab assignment and get himself back into game shape, especially when considering he had just returned from a different injury. After being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his rib cage in the spring, he missed the first few months of the season and only recently returned, making one healthy start, followed by the start where his finger was broken.
While the club believes Sale can still return at some point, they may have to operate under the assumption that his season is done, at least from a rotation perspective. Ramping up towards shorter stints out of the bullpen wouldn’t take as much time as returning to a full starter’s workload, which would make it easier for Sale to return as a reliever.
The club has been especially snakebit in the rotation lately, with Rich Hill, Michael Wacha, Connor Seabold and Josh Winckowski all landing on the injured list in the past three weeks. With Sale sure to join them, that will leave Boston with a rotation of Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta and Kutter Crawford coming out of the All-Star break. James Paxton is still working his way back from April 2021 Tommy John surgery but has yet to begin a rehab assignment. Garrett Whitlock was in the rotation earlier this year but just returned from his own IL stint as a reliever and isn’t fully stretched out. Prospect Brayan Bello made a couple of starts recently, but allowed nine earned runs in eight innings.
Those struggles in the rotation have coincided with a slide in the standings. Since June 26, they’ve gone 6-14 and slipped to two games back of the Blue Jays for the final American League Wild Card spot. The August 2 trade deadline is now just over two weeks away and they will surely have to consider adding some arms, even if some of their injured hurlers are able to make it back onto the hill. Although, if they slide any further in the coming weeks, it might impact how aggressive they are willing to be.