Chris Sale is happy to finally be out of the gray area.
For months, dating back to last August, the Red Sox lefthander had dealt with the unknown regarding his left elbow. He was shut down, then built back up, only to be shut down again, then once more.
Nevertheless, that final time at least gave him a verdict: He would need Tommy John surgery. Sale’s procedure was performed March 30, and for the first time in a long time, he has a clear vision moving forward.
“It’s kind of funny to say this, but I’m actually really happy with where I’m at right now,” said Sale Tuesday, speaking to the media via conference call for the first time since the surgery. “I’ve been chasing a ghost for seven months.
"This is the first hard answer I’ve had in a long time, and at the end of the day, I know what I’m getting. I know what’s at the end of this road.”
Sale’s last start came on Aug. 13. After experiencing discomfort in his elbow, he visited Dr. James Andrews, who said it was just inflammation. Yet it ultimately sidelined Sale for the remainder of the year.
Sale appeared to be on track this spring, throwing a simulated game in early March, but shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with a flexor strain. Days later, spring training was suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak, though players initially were still allowed to go to JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla. Sale started his throwing program and, once more, felt that same discomfort.
His surgery was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles. While nonessential medical procedures have been discouraged during the pandemic, Sale said he and ElAttrache made certain they weren’t taking beds away from coronavirus patients.
Sale was sidelined with pneumonia for the start of spring training. Did it cross his mind that it could have been COVID-19? Yes, of course, he said. He got tested for the flu – it was negative. But his family hasn’t been sick, which he thinks is a good sign. He’d like to get tested to see if his body has the antibodies for the disease, just to know for sure.
Now Sale has some closure — or at least clarity. He is disappointed about not being able to take the ball every fifth day, but with the season on hold, he feels a bit less like he’s leaving his team on an island.
“There’s no doubt that, having surgery or missing time, there’s never a good time for it," he said. "But if there ever was, this is probably as good as you can get. That, obviously, plays a role in the rehab and getting back. Makes me not feel as bad for missing starts and having other people pick up my slack.”
Sale said he hopes his rehab takes 9-14 months. Because he lives in Naples, Fla., ideally he’d prefer to rehab at JetBlue Park, but it’s closed as a safety precaution, so he will get in work at his house.
He knows this won’t be an easy road, which is why he’s leaning on some teammates. Nate Eovaldi has had the surgery twice and has given Sale some pointers.
“I spent a lot of time talking with Nate," said Sale, "and he told me, ‘Don’t look at this as a year. Look at this as two weeks. In two weeks, you get your cast off. And then two weeks from then, you’re going to start doing range of motion.
" ‘Set little goals, because this thing can swallow you alive if you look at this as 10 months, a year, 14, 15 months. Set little goals so you can get little pats on the back along the way.’ ”
Sale could never change who he is as a pitcher. If he couldn’t pitch at full speed, he wouldn’t do it. He didn’t have the answers on how he would get back to who he was because there was little definition to his diagnosis. Now, though, he has some, and the rebuild to get back to being Chris Sale excites him.
“I take a lot of pride in what I do,” Sale said. “I have a chip on my shoulder — well, I guess I’ve got a chip in my elbow, too. I’ve got to find a way to get back to who I am and what I can do as best as possible and do whatever I can to get there.”