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Chris Sale is coming back — and paying for his time in Worcester: ‘I was an idiot’

Chris Sale lost his temper and took it out on a broken clubhouse TV on Wednesday in Worcester.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Chris Sale is likely to return to the Red Sox rotation on Tuesday, according to manager Alex Cora.

Over the course of his rehab assignment, his pitch mix — a fastball that reached 97 miles per hour, with flashes of the trademark bite on his slider and a swing-and-miss changeup — showed more upside than he’d demonstrated while returning from Tommy John surgery in 2021.

Yet as much as the lefthander’s 2022 big league debut in Tampa Bay will be anticipated, the final image of his four-start minor league rehab assignment will be a lasting one.

One day after he followed a 3⅔ inning Triple A struggle in which he walked five batters by taking out his frustrations on a TV at the end of the Worcester Red Sox clubhouse tunnel at Polar Park, Sale said he’d paid for the damages after behaving like “an idiot.”

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“I’m not going to shy away from it. I acted like an idiot last night and I’ve acted like an idiot before,” Sale said Thursday ahead of the Red Sox’ 6-5 loss to the Yankees. “I’d do it in the dugout. [But] I’ve been told through the years, hey, take it to the tunnel. So you think you’re in a safe space and you think that you’re in private. That’s a place that you’re not supposed to really have cameras. There’s no public access to that. So I thought I was in kind of a safer spot, but is what it is, man.

“It’s who I am. It’s what makes me a big leaguer. It’s what makes me good at my job. It might not be the best for the public eye, but what is? Who’s perfect? Name him. I’d love to shake his hand.”

Ironically, Sale’s locker in the Worcester clubhouse was situated next to a punching dummy intended to serve as a non-injurious safety valve for the ire of players. That said, Sale was not the first to do battle with the TV at the end of the tunnel. The TV was already broken (an “out of order” sign had been jokingly affixed to it) after another player had taken out his frustrations earlier in the season.

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“As far as I know, he’s not the only pitcher that has done that,” Cora said. “He’s not the only baseball player that has done that. He’s embarrassed because it’s out [in the public eye]. But I think that’s the fight and the desire to be great. That’s what makes him great. Now, obviously yeah, you know, it’s a fine line between getting hurt and showing your emotions.”

While Sale made clear that he felt it was his responsibility to pick up the bill for the WooSox, he also didn’t apologize.

“If you want me to act like a normal person, you’ve got to treat me like a normal person, right? This isn’t a normal atmosphere,” said Sale. “If I was at Bank of America, it wouldn’t fly, right? We’re not at Bank of America. This is sports. This is leverage. This is pressure. I take a lot of pride in what I do.”

Sale, who famously was suspended by the White Sox in 2016 for cutting the team’s throwback uniforms with a pair of scissors in a rage about their use on a day he was scheduled to start, said that when he erupts in that fashion, he tries to remain mindful of avoiding anything that could injure him.

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“I learned in college not to punch anything. And I learned very early on from a teammate of mine not to go full front kick. You never want to do it,” Sale said. “But when it happens, you’ve got to do it the right way and not injure yourself or somebody around you. You’re just acting like an idiot, honestly. It’s just a 7-year-old temper tantrum. It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s not something I want to do. But like I said, stuff happens, man. Gotta get it out.”

The source of his frustration was performance-based, as Sale proved unable to execute pitches in the fashion he’d hoped as a prelude to his return to the big leagues.

“I feel like I’ve gone months without walking five guys. Especially for a final tuneup start, I expect a lot out of myself. I expect to be who I am. And when that doesn’t work out, sometimes emotions take over the best,” he said. “Worcester got a new TV out of it.”

Of course, while the image of Sale’s tantrum became the defining image of his fourth rehab start, more significant was the difficulty he had throwing strikes (42 of 72).

Sale tried to address that on Thursday, taking the unusual step of throwing a bullpen session the day after his start. Sale said he threw only fastballs while trying to improve his direction to the plate.

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On Wednesday, he’d felt that his lead leg was landing too far toward first base, resulting in excessive torso rotation that had him missing to both sides of the plate.

“I can tell you I’ve never in my life thrown a Day 1 bullpen, and I did it today … I’ve got to be more sharp than I was last time out. That comes with reps. I just need more reps,” said Sale. “So knock on wood, my arm, I feel like it’s as strong as it could be … I felt better today in my bullpen than I did out there on the mound yesterday.”

Wacha has setback

The Red Sox have some arm issues. Michael Wacha, who missed his start Monday because of a heavy arm, will miss his Friday start, too. Wacha threw a bullpen Wednesday but didn’t respond well and will be placed on the injured list. Connor Seabold will be recalled from Triple A Worcester to start Friday.

“We’re not going to push [Wacha],” Cora said. “We have to be smart.”

The Sox already have Nate Eovaldi (back/right hip tightness) and Rich Hill (left knee sprain) on the injured list. Eovaldi is scheduled to throw three innings in a rehab game at Worcester Sunday and could rejoin the team soon. Nevertheless, the rotation is more out of sorts with the loss of Wacha, forcing the Red Sox to go with young and inexperienced pitchers during a very tough part of their schedule.

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“It’s part of the equation,” Cora said. “So, we just have to keep maneuvering and jabbing and try to win games. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We know that. We just got to keep working hard.”

The Sox have not determined their starter for Saturday. There’s a strong chance the Sox will go with the opener strategy. Kutter Crawford would then take the bulk of the innings in relief. Nick Pivetta will close out the series Sunday, and then rookie Brayan Bello will face the Rays again Monday in what will be his second big league start.

“That’s the way it works,” Cora said when asked if it’s ideal that Bello will face the same team twice in less than a week. “Somebody has to do it and it’s him.”

Bello and Portland Sea Dogs outfielder Ceddanne Rafaela were named to the Futures Game.

Rehabbing on farm

Kiké Hernández (right hip flexor strain) will play in a rehab game for Worcester Friday . . . Garrett Whitlock (right rip inflammation) will pitch an inning for the WooSox Friday . . . Reliever Tyler Danish (right forearm strain) was placed on the IL prior to Thursday’s game. The Sox selected righthander Michael Feliz from Worcester to fill Danish’s spot . . . Yankee outfielder Aaron Judge was out of the lineup Thursday with lower body tightness, manager Aaron Boone said. Boone described it as nothing serious. Judge is considered day to day . . . Yankee first baseman Anthony Rizzo (back spasms) was out of the lineup for the third straight game. Rizzo hopes to play this weekend.

Julian McWilliams of the Globe staff contributed.


Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.