The 25-minute conference call conducted with Chris Sale on Tuesday was interrupted several times by screeching feedback or people talking loudly in the background.
Mute your phone, folks. We’re all working from home now.
But what did come through, loud and clear, was the tone in Sale’s voice as he discussed having Tommy John surgery last month.
It was one of relief. Since he first injured his elbow last season, the Red Sox lefthander has wondered how long his arm would hold up. Now he finally has a set path for what comes next.
Teammate Nate Eovaldi, who had Tommy John surgery as a junior in high school and again in 2016, advised Sale to face his rehabilitation work in two-week bites and not think too far ahead.
Eovaldi averaged 97.5 miles per hour with his fastball last season. Jacob deGrom, Stephen Strasburg, and Adam Wainwright all had the surgery and came back to be All-Stars.
The scar on Sale’s elbow is a map. Do the work, get to the end, and you’ll be able to pitch again. If Sale devotes himself, he could be ready closer to the start of next season as opposed to June. He’ll be 32 then.
“This is all I have to do for the next year. I can do this with 100 percent of my focus,” Sale said. “Much like pitching, I can make this competitive … The one thing I heard more than anything is the rehab process. If you dedicate your time and effort into rehabbing it the right way, not skipping any steps and doing things the right way, you’re going to be fine if not better than before.”
Rehabbing an injury during a pandemic will require creativity. Sale lives a short drive from JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla., but the facility is shut down. That could change as soon as this week, but for now he will communicate with the Red Sox staff via FaceTime.
It’s still better than wondering if his elbow was going to pop every time he threw a pitch.
“I’m actually really happy with where I’m at right now,” Sale said. “I’ve been chasing a ghost for seven months right now. To have a definitive answer, to have a finish line … for me this is the first hard answer I’ve had in a long time.
“At the end of the day, I know what I’m getting. I know what’s at the end of the road. I’ve had doubts; I’ve had questions for over half a year now.”
Sale also addressed the lingering notion that he should have just had the surgery last season when he landed on the injured list.
“You can always look back. Hindsight is always 20-20. But for me, I sleep easier knowing that we did everything we could,” Sale said. “Some people call it wasting time and, hey, it is. We wasted time with this because the end result is Tommy John and we could have done this six months ago.
“But, having said that, I appreciate the process and I wouldn’t have been 100 percent go as I was this past time. We turned over every stone; we did every possible thing we could have to prevent this. I didn’t want to jump the gun.”
Sale actually felt fine when he reported to spring training and started throwing again. He felt like he had overcome the injury and it would be a normal season.
“I was getting after it,” Sale said.
He’s telling the truth. The Sox post a daily schedule before spring training workouts, and with maybe one or two exceptions, I watched every time Sale threw off the mound.
No pitcher, outside of Max Scherzer, throws full-tilt in February. But Sale had good command of his pitches and what appeared to be competitive velocity. That lasted until the first time he faced hitters.
With baseball shut down, Sale is home like the rest of us. He takes his wife and three sons for rides in his old Jeep and joked that he now throws a righthanded cutter with a Wiffle ball that Mariano Rivera wishes he had.
That will probably be his lifestyle for a while. Until he’s ready to pitch in minor league games, maybe a year from now, Sale can get his work done in Fort Myers.
The other positive is that he’s not missing any starts with the game on pause.
“There’s never a good time for [surgery] to happen. But if there ever was, this is probably about as good as you can get,” Sale said. “That obviously plays a role in the rehab and coming back. That makes me not feel as bad missing starts and having other people pick up my slack.”