FORT MYERS, Fla. — Chris Sale has a broken rib on his right side and will not be available for the start of the season. No one in Red Sox camp has any idea when he’ll be able to pitch. Oh, and if it makes you feel any worse, he’s still not vaccinated.
Yeesh. The Sox have yet to play an exhibition game and already it feels as if they are in fourth place, losing ground daily to the Rays, Yankees, and Blue Jays.
The starting rotation was already suspect. Eddie Rodríguez took his talents to Detroit, leaving Nate Eovaldi and Nick Pivetta as the only seasoned starters. Now the Sox don’t have their ace. Again.
“This sucks because I put in a lot of work to prepare myself for this moment,” Sale said Wednesday morning. “I built the bad-ass racecar and it broke down before the race started. I’m back in the garage trying to fix it up.”
Sale hurt himself throwing live batting practice Feb. 24 at Florida Gulf Coast University.
In football, this would be termed a “noncontact injury.” I mean, how does a guy break a rib just throwing a baseball? What’s the deal? Is Sale too skinny for sports? Is his diet OK? Is his arm action too violent?
“I was throwing a live session on a Thursday,” Sale recalled. “After that, I felt a little side discomfort. Nothing crazy. I didn’t think anything over it, too much of it. Over the next handful of days, not only did it stick around, it felt like it got worse.”
Now he can’t sneeze or sit up in bed without feeling pain.
Because he hurt himself during the lockout, Sale could not go to the Red Sox for help. He couldn’t even tell them. With assistance from his college coach, Sale had tests that revealed a stress fracture of the eighth rib on his right side. But he had to stay in the Cone of Silence.
The Sox and Sale are saying the club was not informed until last weekend when the lockout ended.
“I let them know our first day here,’’ said Sale. “The CBA literally got agreed upon. I got a call from Chaim [Bloom] and AC [manager Alex Cora]. It sucked for them, obviously.”
“We found out about it when we were able to get back in touch with him [last Thursday],” said Bloom, the chief baseball officer.
According to Sale, the conversation last Thursday night went something like this:
Bloom: “Hey, how’s it going?”
Sale: “Not so good, actually.”
“I just got the MRI disc to them today, actually,” said Sale. “We still don’t exactly know what the landscape is going to be going forward — other than a bone to heal. From there, we’ll build up a plan and go from there.”
“He’s doing a lot better now than when he first came in,” said Bloom. “But we’re talking weeks before he can throw again. We need to be able to build him up. The buildup shouldn’t be too long when we’re able to get him back, but we don’t know when that will be.”
The Red Sox signed Sale to a five-year, $145 million contract extension in the spring of 2019 — back in the days when they still behaved like a big-market team. It was Dave Dombrowski’s sugar high after the 2018 World Series. The Sox threw a bag of cash at Sale even though it was clear he was headed for arm trouble.
Three years in, it has turned out to be a bad deal for the ball club.
Sale went 6-11 the year he signed the extension, then had Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2020 season. He returned late last season, and the Red Sox set him up for success against baseball’s Tomato Cans (read: Orioles). When Sale finally pitched against real lineups in the playoffs, he was lit up for eight runs on 12 hits and four walks in a mere nine innings.
“The last couple of years have sucked,” said Sale. “I’ve run into some pretty unlucky circumstances. Arm trouble. My neck. And then this. But what can you do?
“Does it suck? Yes. Was I discouraged? Absolutely. Pissed off? One hundred percent. But none of those emotions, none of that wasted energy is going to help me help this.
“Take one off the chin. It sucks. Got more teammates picking up my slack, doing my job. [I’m] getting paid to do nothing. That sucks. And I’m not afraid to say it. That’s who I am. That’s what I believe. All I can do is show up every day, try to get this thing right and go back out there and try to do my job.”
“The nice thing about this is that it’s really just a question of time,” said Bloom.
The not-so-nice thing is that the Rays, Yanks, and Jays are all doing more than the Red Sox to get better. And now the Red Sox will start the season without Chris Sale.
Sale won’t be ready when the Sox make their first trip to Toronto (where unvaxed players can’t travel) in April. Will he get vaccinated before the Sox return to Toronto in July and September?
“We’ll see what we get when that rolls around,” said the tall lefty.