Lefthander Chris Sale faced hitters for the first time since February on Monday, throwing live batting practice in the Red Sox’ extended spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla. According to an MLB source, the session went “extremely well,” with another noting that Sale’s fastball topped out at 96 miles per hour.
Sale is now scheduled to fly to Boston to join the Red Sox Tuesday at Fenway. He’ll continue his rehab with the team.
Sale, 33, has been sidelined since suffering a stress fracture in his right rib cage while throwing live batting practice to college hitters in late February, during the owner-imposed MLB lockout. While he initially had been on track to return to the rotation by early June, an as-yet-unidentified personal medical issue (described by the Sox as neither baseball- nor COVID-related) delayed his rehab by weeks, and a stomach malady last week further delayed his return.
The Sox have not specified a timetable for his return, or for the start of a rehab assignment. Given that he’s just started facing hitters and has yet to pitch in a game since last October, a buildup of several weeks seems likely. Still, the fact that he has progressed to facing hitters represents progress for Sale, currently in the third season of his five-year, $145 million extension.
Over the last several weeks, team officials have not ruled out the possibility that Sale would return as a short-inning pitcher depending on both team need and the overall state of the pitching staff, though as of Monday, one team source said that no determination has been made about Sale’s role whenever he is ready to return.
Enough steps remain before he is ready to contribute — and enough uncertainty exists about the Red Sox rotation, with Nate Eovaldi and Garrett Whitlock both on the injured list — that such a decision is likely premature.