Chris Sale says he has been assured there is no tear in his elbow. No ligament damage. His elbow pain is merely inflammation. Everything will be reevaluated in four to six weeks.
So there’s no need for Tommy John surgery . . . at this time.
“We’ll get through this,’’ Sale said Tuesday afternoon in the Red Sox clubhouse. “It’s not the end of the world. Could be worse.
“That’s my mind-set that I’m going to take through this. I’m going to do everything I can to get back on that field as soon as possible and pitch like I’m expected to pitch.’’
Recounting his trip to Florida Monday to see Dr. James Andrews, the world’s leading specialist on pitchers’ elbows, Sale said, “He told us we had some inflammation in the elbow. Did a round of PRP [platelet-rich plasma injection].
“He checked it out and got some better news. Obviously not great news. But about as good as we could get. We rest four to six weeks and get back on a throwing program and get back to it.’’
You say good news.
I say it’s potentially a disaster, having more to do with the future than the present.
The 2019 baseball season — a train wreck for Sale and the Red Sox — is over. There’s still north of 30 games to play and nothing’s official, but everyone knows there’s not going to be any postseason for the Red Sox and we are not going to see Sale in another game this year.
Sale finishes the season with a record of 6-11 and an ERA of 4.40. He pitched only 147⅓ innings, his lowest total since becoming a starter for the White Sox in 2012. Sale got an injection, the standard treatment for partial MUCL (medial ulnar collateral ligament) tears. Red Sox reliever Brandon Workman had a PRP shot in April 2015 and did not pitch in the big leagues again until 2017. Workman’s Tommy John surgery came two months after the injection.
Twice Sale was asked directly if he was sure there was no tear. Each time he answered “yeah” before launching into a discussion about the inflammation. The ultimate words of assurance (there is no tear) have yet to be uttered by anyone connected with the Red Sox. Believe what you choose to believe.
Oh, and lest we forget, Sale last spring signed a five-year, $145 million contract extension that starts next season.
Sale is a no-nonsense, stand-up guy. He’s an accountable old-school gunslinger, which is why fans love him and teammates pull for him. He has been one of the most dazzling pitchers of his generation, getting to 2,000 strikeouts faster than anyone in the history of MLB. And yet the possibility exists that the Red Sox just entered into one of the worst contractual agreements in baseball history.
And we will always wonder why. And who will take the fall?
What was the rush in the spring? Sale had shoulder trouble in 2018, pitching a mere 17 regular-season innings after July 27. He did OK in the postseason, but was still good for only 15⅓ innings over 14 games He logged only 158 regular-season innings, a career low until this season.
The Sox were eager to extend Sale even though he was turning 30, the age that Red Sox (and Globe) owner John Henry once insisted was the beginning of decline for starting pitchers. And let’s not forget that Sale has a high-risk, violent delivery and carries only 183 pounds on a 6-foot-6-inch frame.
The telltale sign that the Sox were hell-bent on extending Sale before the start of the season came when the owner had his annual picnic-table presser in Fort Myers in mid-February. Henry admitted that the Sox “blew it” when they failed to extend Jon Lester in the spring of 2014.
When Nick Cafardo asked Henry about Sale’s shoulder, the owner said, “He’s healthy. He has minor issues. It ended up taking a bit of time because he needed rest at one point. But he hasn’t had any significant shoulder issues.
“I think Chris Sale falls out of the norm because he is just such a . . . not just a great pitcher, but a great part of a team that just won a World Series. He had a great impact just being on the bench in the World Series. He is a special player, so we would love to be able to sign him, and I think he would as well.’’
There it was. The World Series sugar high. The Sox were still in love with all the guys who excelled in the World Series. This is why they overpaid Steve Pearce and Nate Eovaldi almost immediately after beating the Dodgers. Sale was next.
When I asked Sale if his contract extension is now a source of comfort or pressure, he answered, “Neither. I’m a baseball player. I don’t worry about contracts. I’m worried about getting my arm right and trying to help this team win again.’
OK. But Sale just had the worst season of his career, got shut down for the second straight August/September, and is waiting to be reevaluated by the grim reaper of big league elbows.
Meanwhile, let’s remember that Sale, Eovaldi, and David Price are going to make an aggregate $80 million in each of the next three seasons. At this hour, two are on the disabled list and the other is 1-0 with a 6.69 ERA in 36⅓ innings of work this season.
Sale said he has no doubt he will be ready for 2020.
“I’ve still got a lot of ground to cover for this team and I plan on doing so,’’ he said. “I want to do that to the best of my ability, and this was the way we had to go.
“You look at any pitcher in the big leagues. There’s going to be a down time when they get hurt. Especially as the workload picks up. Start racking up some innings.
“I think it’s just the culmination of a lot of things coming to the front. I’ll work through it and deal with it and keep working.’’
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org