FORT MYERS, Fla. — Chris Sale was on the active roster of the Red Sox for six days last season. He fractured a rib in March, his left pinky finger in July, and then his right wrist in August.
The first injury came when he was pitching to college players, the second when he was hit by a line drive, and the third when he tumbled off a bicycle.
Sale’s career became a series of misadventures worthy of a Three Stooges clip. Only nobody was laughing.
“I’m a baseball player. I’ve done this my whole life and that got taken away for quite a while,” Sale said. “It was frustrating. There are tougher times to be had, but I went through a tough time.”
So to whatever degree two scoreless innings of a spring training game can bring joy to an accomplished player, Sale found that against the Detroit Tigers on Monday.
He allowed two singles and struck out two without a walk while throwing 24 of 31 pitches for strikes.
“To me, it felt like he needed to see that,” catcher Jorge Alfaro said. “He did a really good job. All his pitches were working. He’s a fun guy to call the game.”
Along the way, Sale had a pitch clock violation and forgot to cover first base on the back end of what should have been double play.
He pitched so well he was able to laugh about that one mistake.
“I just had a brain fart,” Sale said. “I heard about it and I should, because that can’t happen.”
With his family watching from the stands, Sale walked off the field with a wide smile and was greeted by a dozen or so coaches and teammates waiting for him at the dugout rail.
“Today was a good day,” he said. “Felt good. Any time you can throw out a couple of zeroes, it’s a good thing. Nice to get that first one out of the way.”
Sale even savored that little twinge of anxiety that accompanies taking the mound.
“There’s always nerves walking out there, man. Even when I’m facing my own teammates,” he said. “You have that underlying buzz of just competing. Any time you’re lacing them up to go out and pitch you have pride; you have a goal. You don’t want to suck.”
The usual questions received positive answers. He had command of his pitches and his velocity was better than expected, touching 96 miles per hour. Sale also worked at his usual quick pace.
“Excellent,” manager Alex Cora said.
When the conversation turned to what the day meant beyond how he pitched, Sale became animated.
“There’s a lot of work that went into this, not only for myself but everybody here,” he said. “I’m just very thankful for those people. The training staff, the guys in the weight room, my teammates, my friends, my family, everybody.
“I wouldn’t be here without all of them, there’s no question. Appreciation is not even enough for how I feel.”
Sale, who turns 34 on opening day, March 30, doesn’t have many baseball boxes left to check. He’s a seven-time All-Star and a World Series champion who has twice led the American League in strikeouts.
But what he can do for the first time is return to a high level over a full season after a series of injuries over the last three years.
Monday represented one of many steps toward that goal.
“I got it back and I appreciate it more,” Sale said. “I’m trying to have more fun with it. I’m trying to be more open-minded. I’m trying to kind of soak some things in and really appreciate it.”
Sale described the feeling as “a certain lightness” after being burdened by so many setbacks and endless hours of treatment.
“When you get knocked down like that, it’s tough,” he said. “You’ve got to collect yourself to get back up.
“That’s why I have so much appreciation for everyone around here. That’s why I have so much love for my family, my friends, my teammates, everybody here. I wouldn’t be here [otherwise]. I couldn’t have done this on my own.”
Sale is scheduled for three innings Saturday against the Twins. The calendar from there has him lined up for Game 2 of the regular season, against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park.
For now there’s a workout Tuesday and a bullpen Wednesday. Back to work.
“I just show up like everyone else shows up, sharpen my axe the same way, work hard, go out there, and compete,” he said. “That’s where I want to be.”