FORT MYERS, Fla. — For the third straight season, Red Sox lefthander Chris Sale will not be available for Opening Day.
The Red Sox disclosed Wednesday that Sale suffered a stress fracture in his right rib cage during MLB’s lockout of players. He felt discomfort after a Feb. 24 live batting practice session at Florida Gulf Coast University but initially believed it was minor soreness, and he went through a full upper-body workout after the session. The subsequent days, however, the injury became more severe.
With teams prohibited from contact with players during the lockout, Sale connected with Dr. Patrick Joyner, an orthopedist based in Florida, who diagnosed the stress fracture after extensive imaging. Sale informed Sox officials of the injury as soon as the lockout ended.
The Sox took the initial days of camp to get their own evaluation of Sale, who is entering the third year of a five-year, $145 million extension he signed in the spring of 2019. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said it would be “weeks, not days” before Sale can start throwing again, meaning the lefty will not be available for the start of the season April 7.
While neither the Sox nor Sale had a timetable for this unusual injury, he almost certainly will miss all of April, with a May return a best-case scenario.
“Bones typically take 6-8 weeks to heal,” said Sale. “That’s a pretty universal timeline. Outside of that, I don’t know anything. I’m just kind of waiting. Does it suck? Yes. Was I discouraged? Absolutely. Pissed off? One hundred percent.
“All that being said, none of those feelings, none of those emotions, none of that wasted energy is going to help [the injury], help me, help [the team]. I’ve got work to do.
“I’ve been here before. I’ve got much bigger hurdles. I’ve been behind rocks I thought I’d never be able to get over. This is just another one of them, another life test to get over and all the while trying to be a good teammate, a good leader, and doing the things I need to do.”
Sale said that he’d been aggressive in his buildup, long-tossing regularly in Fort Myers with Nick Pivetta to build arm strength while preparing for what he hoped would be his first full healthy season since 2017. He is unsure whether those efforts contributed to the injury, which is typically a product of excessive activity.
Though Sale said his arm felt great, the rib emerged as a “freak injury” that, while improving, remains tender at all times and acutely uncomfortable at some, particularly if coughing or sneezing.
Sale is weeks away from beginning a throwing program, with weeks more before he will be able to build the arm strength to return to the rotation.
“Not perfect, right?” said manager Alex Cora. “We’re going to be OK. We just want him to go through the whole situation, get ready, and when he’s back, he’s back. We know his arm is sound. He was feeling really good.
“It’s just one of those obstacles for the team, but somebody has to step up, and we have some capable guys.”
The Sox believe they have enough starting pitching depth to withstand injuries. The signings of Michael Wacha and Rich Hill, along with the ability to stretch out Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock, give them options behind Nate Eovaldi and Pivetta.
But Bloom said they are not taking that depth for granted.
“We’re fortunate to be in a better position with respect to internal depth than we’ve been in the past,” said Bloom. “But it’s always something that we’re looking to supplement.”
The rib is the latest in a run of injuries for Sale, who turns 33 this month. In 2018, a Cy Young-caliber season was interrupted by a shoulder injury. In 2019, he dealt with an elbow strain that ultimately required Tommy John surgery in March 2020. During his rehab last season, Sale was slowed by a COVID-19 infection as well as a neck issue.
He returned to the rotation last August, going 5-1 with a 3.16 ERA in nine starts, though he did miss time in September with another COVID-19 infection.
He disclosed Wednesday that he has not been vaccinated, putting into question whether he would be able to play when the Red Sox go to Toronto, given Canada’s border restrictions on unvaccinated individuals.
Sale was eager to move forward with a healthy 2022 campaign, but that goal has proven unobtainable.
“I’m like a dog on a chain right now,” he said. “I can’t wait to get off this thing.
“The last couple years have sucked. I’m getting paid to do nothing. That sucks, and I’m not afraid to say it. That’s who I am and that’s what I believe.
“All I can do is show up every day, try and get this right, and go back out there and try and do my job.”
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.