Red Sox lefthander Chris Sale arrived at a key checkpoint in his recovery from Tommy John surgery Tuesday. At the end of his throwing session in Fort Myers, Sale — for the first time since a live batting practice session on March 1, 2020 — started throwing off a mound.
“It was not an extensive throwing session, but at the end of the session this morning, he got up off the mound and threw a few pitches off the mound,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said. ”That is a great milestone for him. It’s the first time he’s done that since the surgery. Very light today, but great for Chris, and awesome for the organization.”
That mound session, more than 13 months after Sale’s Tommy John surgery, came later than anticipated. But Sale’s progression had been slowed since the start of this year by a neck injury and then a COVID-19 infection. Bloom revealed Tuesday that Sale also endured a minor back issue early in spring training that further slowed his progress.
Bloom described the neck and back issues as “things that, if he were healthy and getting ready for a season, wouldn’t be that big of a deal. They’d be very small disruptions. But when you’re looking at getting a throwing program going and proceeding methodically through a Tommy John rehab, they obviously set you back.”
Even so, Sale is now moving beyond those setbacks and moving toward more regular work on the mound. That work does not come with a clear date for Sale’s return to a big league mound, but does get the team closer to the point where it will be able to envision him as a member of the rotation.
“We’re getting closer to a point where we can start mapping out a timetable. I don’t have one, but he is progressing,” Bloom said. “The next step is to get into regular mound work, mound work with some intensity. Then we can start thinking about facing hitters and mapping out a game schedule. I don’t know exactly when that’ll be. Whenever it is, it is. We have to do it right. The important thing is we’re moving forward.”
Reunion in opposite dugouts
A quiet storyline heading into the three-game series against Detroit, beginning Tuesday night at Fenway Park, was manager Alex Cora vs. Tigers manager A.J. Hinch. Both were suspended last season because of their involvement in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal back in 2017 when Hinch was the manager and Cora was his bench coach. Both are now back in baseball even though some fans and critics don’t agree with either of them getting a second chance.
“I’m happy that he’s back doing what he does,” Cora said before first pitch. “There’s a lot of people who are happy that I’m managing. There’s others that don’t agree. But at the end, both of us are back in baseball doing what we love and we have a job to do which is to take our team to the next level.
The two are in opposite situations. Hinch’s Tigers team came into this game as the worst team in baseball (8-21), having lost 13 of their last 15 contests. Cora and the Red Sox, meanwhile, team still sit atop of the AL East at 17-12.
“Obviously, it’s a different situation than us,” Cora said regarding the Hinch and the Tigers’ predicament. “But he’s going to be OK.”
Hinch and Cora have heard their share of boos from fans on the road this year. Cora heard some of the fans’ disdain during the Sox’ road series vs. the Rangers this past weekend.
“They booed me,” Cora said. “And that’s their right, so I understand that. And it doesn’t change where I’m at, and how I think about the whole thing. I’ve been very open about it. People have the right to think the way they want to think about me and I understand that part.”
COVID-19 restrictions have loosened for some teams whose Tier 1 personnel (players, coaches and support staff) have reached the 85 percent vaccination threshold implemented by Major League Baseball.
MLB announced last week that four teams reached that mark, including the Tigers. Cora said last week the Red Sox still were working toward that. Not much has changed, according to Bloom.
“Not there yet,” Bloom said. “Obviously, even the guys who have gotten their first shot are not up for shot No. 2, and so it’s going to be delayed until those players reach full vaccination status.”
To add another layer to that, even after receiving the second dose of the vaccine, there’s a two-week period before a person is considered fully vaccinated. The numbers for the Red Sox — or any team for that matter — won’t see an uptick until that inoculation period is complete. That aside, there are some players who still aren’t onboard with receiving the vaccine.
“There’s some other guys that we continue to talk with, continue to try to make sure we’re providing every resource we can to educate guys,” Bloom said. “So we’re still hopeful, but we’re not there yet.”
Devers sits with sore shoulder
Rafael Devers was out of the lineup with a sore right shoulder, but Cora said he believes his third baseman will be back in the lineup Wednesday. Devers originally injured the shoulder on a swing Saturday vs. the Rangers . . . Even though the minor league season began Tuesday, Bloom said the Red Sox will still have a taxi squad on the road with the big league club.