CHICAGO — Chris Sale isn’t at the point where he can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but he has gotten to a point where the tunnel is visible.
Sale, who suffered a stress fracture in his right ribcage in February, then had a setback during his rehab because of what the Red Sox described as a personal, non-baseball, non-COVID medical situation, threw a 15-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday in Fort Myers, Fla., incorporating fastballs, sliders, and changeups. He’s scheduled to throw a 25-pitch bullpen session on Friday and likely another next week.
At that point, according to manager Alex Cora, the team is hopeful that Sale might be able to face hitters in a live batting practice session for the first time since his injury. Facing hitters would put Sale on a path to a simulated game, after which a rehab assignment could enter the conversation.
“He’s in good spirits. He liked what he saw,” Cora said after speaking to Sale and pitching coordinator Walter Miranda. “This whole rehab stuff, sometimes it’s frustrating, but it seems like as soon as he got to the mound he’s in a better place. [Sale and Miranda] both feel like [his ramp-up is] a lot different than last year as far as building up and his arm.”
Lefthander James Paxton, whose rehab from Tommy John surgery was put on hold earlier this month because of elbow soreness, is once again throwing on flat ground. He’s with the team here, where he threw from 60 feet on Tuesday and expects to move out to 75 feet on Thursday.
Paxton had been throwing 30-35-pitch bullpen sessions in Fort Myers before his setback, but now said he’s nearly pain-free, suggesting he feels no discomfort when throwing and only the hint of discomfort (“less than a 1 out of 10,” he said) during some exercises.
“I’m moving in the right direction. I’m happy to be back throwing again. It feels really good to get going. So we’ll just continue to build it and get ready to go,” said Paxton. “I’m not sure what the timetable [for pitching in the big leagues] is right now. Right now we’re just focused on getting me back on the bump, and then we’ll kind of map it out from there.”
Meanwhile, Bryan Mata, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery in April 2021, pitched in his second extended spring training game. He topped out at 99 miles per hour (he’d worked at up to 101 last week).
“It’s been eye-opening,” Cora said of the righthander, who is expected to join Triple A Worcester this summer.
The potential for those reinforcements has Cora optimistic about the state of his pitching staff.
“We’ve got some interesting guys besides [Sale and Paxton] that can impact this club later on in the season and we feel comfortable with our pitching depth,” said Cora. “I think we’re in a good spot pitching-wise.
Martinez in lineup
J.D. Martinez, who sat on Sunday because of lower-back soreness, returned to the lineup. He did so in his typical role as designated hitter and went 4 for 5 with three runs scored in the Red Sox’ rout. Through 41 games, Martinez had yet to see any time in the outfield. In the world of the universal DH, does Cora expect that Martinez can donate his glove to a museum? “Not really,” said Cora. “At one point he’s going to have to play it because he’s going to be needed, but right now is not the time.” Cora said that Martinez hadn’t been needed in the outfield this year because Christian Arroyo had proven adept at playing right field … Lefthander Rich Hill (1-1, 3.90 ERA in seven starts), who is slated to start against the White Sox on Wednesday, said he’s been working between starts to correct a pitch-tipping issue that cropped up in his last outing against the Mariners. Hill said he’s had issues tipping for years, something he first learned from former Dodgers teammate Chase Utley. “It’s always been a struggle for me,” said Hill. “It’s something that’s very frustrating to deal with, but we’ve got to fix it. So, just keep working on it, try to figure out what’s going to make the most sense, and fix it going forward.” … White Sox outfielder Luis Robert was placed on the COVID-19 injured list prior to Tuesday’s game. The team recalled infielder Jake Burger from Triple A Charlotte in his absence.
Red Sox top prospect Marcelo Mayer underwent an MRI on his sore right wrist and visited with a hand specialist in Boston. The MRI confirmed the team’s diagnosis of a sprain, said farm director Brian Abraham, and Mayer is expected to resume baseball activities shortly. The 19-year-old has played just four games since April 23, but in 17 games with Single A Salem, he’s hitting .333/.386/.507 … Prospect Triston Casas was placed on Triple-A Worcester’s seven-day injured list because of an ankle injury suffered while running the bases last week. Casas is making progress and is with the WooSox on their trip to Lehigh Valley. Abraham said that, in a best-case scenario, Casas could return by the weekend, but the team won’t rush him back … Cora remained coy about whether Triple A righthander Josh Winckowski will be called up to start against the Orioles in Saturday’s doubleheader, suggesting only that the Sox were considering several pitchers … WooSox righthander Connor Seabold was placed on the injured list because of a pectoral strain suffered in his last start on May 15. He’s expected to miss at least one more start.