FORT MYERS, Fla. — Chris Sale called his current situation a gut punch.
The Red Sox lefthander is a competitor. There’s a presence when he’s on the mound. He can rack up strikeouts by the dozen when healthy. When he’s at his dominant best, he’s virtually unhittable.
Unfortunately for Sale and the Sox, all of that’s on hold.
Sale came to spring camp battling pneumonia and is still about two weeks behind schedule. Manager Ron Roenicke announced Thursday that Sale will start the season on the injured list.
Last year, Sale went on the IL in mid-August with elbow inflammation and missed the remainder of the season, but Roenicke emphasized that this IL stint is not related to Sale’s elbow.
“Nothing at all [related] to the arm,” Roenicke said. “He’s doing really good. We’re really happy with where he’s at. This is strictly from missing two weeks.”
The Sox have met with Sale over the course of spring training on his progression and decided that this was the most prudent decision.
“When we were in that meeting, I said, ‘The only thing this hurts is my ego, and that doesn’t matter,’ ” Sale said. “I didn’t have any argument with them trying to take care of me and do what’s best not only for myself but for the organization and the team going forward.
“They had great points and I didn’t. I respect that. I respect everybody in that room and the decisions that were made, and we move forward.”
If Sale can draw on last year’s spring training, perhaps this might help him move forward. He started just two games last spring, as the Sox decided to minimize the starters’ workload after the championship run in 2018.
But you could make the argument that it threw the rotation out of sorts. Pitchers didn’t go through their natural progression. The Sox are trying to avoid that this spring by having their starters make their six spring starts. At this point, Sale would be slated to make just four before the season starts.
“I think that’s a little bit of what’s going into it,” Sale said. “There were things we had to do. You’re not just going to come out here and start ripping after three months off. I respected it then. I’m not going to say that’s what it was or this person or that person. What happened last season was on me.”
Said Roenicke, “He’s worked hard on getting his arm right. We didn’t think four starts in spring training was fair to him.”
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom echoed that.
“Unfortunately, getting sick set him back,” Bloom said. “With everything that he’s been through dating back to last summer, shame on us if we don’t do everything we can to allow him to prepare properly for a season.”
Major League Baseball recently implemented a 15-day IL for pitchers instead of 10, so Sale is expected to miss two regular-season starts.
The Sox can backdate his IL stint to March 23, and if they did that, the earliest return would be April 7.
The Red Sox open the season March 26 in Toronto. The home opener is April 2 against the White Sox.
Sale’s absence for any amount of time is a blow to a team short on starting pitching. The Sox already were without a No. 5 starter after David Price was traded to the Dodgers.
“I think he was a big part of our success here before my time and during my time,” Sale said. “He started the last game of the year in 2018, carried us through the postseason, so that’s going to be tough. He’s a guy, you know what you’re going to get out of him.”
The Sox don’t know what they’re getting out of this group of starters, however. They already have considered using an opener in the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Could they now entertain that tactic two times through the rotation?
“I don’t think we’ve taken anything off the table at this point,” Bloom said. “It will all be about what we feel gives us the best chance to win on those days and throughout that opening stretch.”
Bloom added that Sale’s absence won’t alter the club’s thinking on acquiring another arm via the trade market.
“I don’t think so, only in that we would want to accumulate as much as depth as we can,” Bloom said. “I don’t think that changes given that it was already an objective. At the same time, we have a lot of guys that we’re interested in learning more about that we’re excited about.”
Sale is scheduled to throw live batting practice Saturday.