The Red Sox do not expect Chris Sale to pitch again this season. But, for now, the lefthander does not need Tommy John elbow surgery according to Dr. James Andrews.
Andrews instead gave Sale an injection of platelet-rich plasma and recommended a six-week shutdown from pitching before he is evaluated again.
Sale was at Andrews’s clinic in Gulf Breeze, Fla., on Monday for an examination following an MRI taken last week that showed inflammation and possible damage to his ulnar collateral ligament.
A brief statement from the Red Sox quoted president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski saying Andrews confirmed the diagnosis of inflammation.
Sale will be able to try throwing again during the six weeks. But with the regular season ending on Sept. 29, Sale is essentially done and would not have time to build up should the Sox make the playoffs.
Given the lengthy time needed to recover from Tommy John surgery, the Sox have little to lose and everything to gain by waiting to see if the cause of the inflammation heals.
It’s similar to the situation that occurred with David Price in 2017.
Price injured his elbow in spring training that season and traveled to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis to meet with Andrews and was told he didn’t need surgery.
Price returned on May 29 and appeared in 16 games that season, 11 as a starter.
The news offered at least some relief for the Red Sox after what was a tense weekend off the field at Fenway Park.
Dombrowski and manager Alex Cora issued somber updates about Sale’s condition and the pitcher was shielded from reporters before he and head athletic trainer Brad Pearson traveled to Florida.
Sale, 30, is a seven-time All-Star who is 35-23 with a 3.08 earned run average in 84 starts for the Red Sox since being obtained from the Chicago White Sox before the 2017 season.
The Sox signed Sale to a five-year, $145 million extension in March. That contract starts with the 2020 season.
Now Dombrowski can proceed with at least some level of confidence of having Sale on the roster.
But there have been red flags with Sale over the last two seasons.
Sale was 11-4 with a 2.04 ERA through 22 starts last season, seemingly en route to his first Cy Young Award before shoulder pain limited him to five starts and 17 innings over the remainder of the season.
Sale had two stints on the injured list and completed five innings once in three postseason starts. But he struck out the side in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the World Series in Los Angeles to secure the championship.
He has not pitched particularly well since. Sale allowed seven earned runs in three innings at Seattle on Opening Day and is 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA this season. The Sox are 10-15 in games he has started.
Sale allowed five runs over 6⅔ innings at Cleveland last Tuesday and felt stiffness in his elbow the next day.
With Price on the disabled list with inflammation in his wrist, the Red Sox are quickly running out of starters as they fight to remain in the playoff race. They are 6½ games behind Tampa Bay for the second wild card.
The Sox have yet to name a starter for Tuesday night’s game against Philadelphia.
Price could return as soon as Sunday but the Sox will need to find creative ways to replace Price given their lack of depth in Triple A.
Brian Johnson, who has started five games, is likely to get a shot. Andrew Cashner, who pitched poorly in six starts before going to the bullpen, is another candidate.