TAMPA, Fla. — Chris Sale’s elbow is sore again.
And whatever slim chance the Red Sox have of making an unexpected playoff run in 2020 is hanging on the opinion of noted orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews.
After throwing just 15 pitches of controlled action against live hitters on Sunday, Sale reported to camp on Monday and told the Red Sox that he felt something in his throwing elbow, the same elbow that forced him to shut down early last year.
“Obviously there’s some concern,” Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said before the Sox’ 9-1 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees on Tuesday. “Knowing how his 2019 ended and how important he is to us, there is some concern. But until we have all the information, we don’t want to start speculating.”
Once Sale reported feeling pain, the Red Sox administered an MRI. The team doctors have reviewed the results, Bloom said. But the club won’t announce anything until Andrews receives the images and talks with Sale on the phone.
Bloom said he wasn’t sure when Andrews would look at the results.
“When you do hit these milestones, sometimes you can get sore,” Bloom said. “He hasn’t faced hitters in a long time. And I think to speculate too much would be irresponsible. But needless to say, everything has gone well to this point. This is our first bump in the road. Hopefully it is just a bump in the road. But you can’t help but have some concern.”
The Red Sox infamously took the foot off the gas with their starting pitchers last spring, waiting until the very end of spring training before letting them get some innings under the belt. It worked disastrously for most of the pitchers, including Sale, who began the year throwing 88 mph fastballs and ended the year on the injured list.
“I know it seemed at least anecdotally to not have benefited those guys,” Bloom said. “But not having been here, it’s hard to say. I know this spring we talked about it recently. We wanted to make sure we gave him a full build-up to err on the side of caution.”
But Sale had the flu and a “small case of pneumonia” when camp opened this spring. He continued pitching anyway. And though he was behind schedule and already expected to miss time at the start of the year, the question remains: Did the Red Sox rush Sale too quickly this spring?
“We didn’t think so,” Bloom said. “Obviously people can have different opinions on that but we felt we were erring on the side of conservatism.”
Sale experienced elbow inflammation last August and was advised by Andrews that he would not need Tommy John surgery at the time. Instead, he received a platelet-rich plasma injection. He finished the year with just 25 starts.
Under former president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, the club signed Sale to a five-year, $145-million extension last April. It kicks in this year.
Already without David Price and Rick Porcello from last year’s rotation, losing Sale could be a fatal blow to the Sox’ season.
“At a minimum, even if this is fairly benign, we know it’s going to set him back to some degree,” Bloom said. “How long? I don’t know yet. Hopefully it is not a huge concern and doesn’t set him back too much. But we know it’s going to set him back some. So at a minimum it means whatever solution we were looking at for the interim, having those two open spots is going to be there a little longer.”
Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez are the only healthy starters in camp. Chris Mazza and Ryan Weber are among those competing for rotation spots. And the club is considering using an opener in one of those spots.
They’re also looking outside the organization for starting pitchers.
“We like a lot of the guys we have, most of the guys that were here before and some guys we brought in,” Bloom said. “As we get to know them better, I think there are things we’re learning about them, a lot of them are positives. Seeing how they respond to some of the messages the staff has for them, to see how they adapt in some cases to changes in repertoire and using their stuff a little bit differently.
“At the same time, even before this we were not going to stop looking around outside. It’s an area where even when we have five guys you know you can lean on, you’re still never satisfied with the depth.”
Interim manager Ron Roenicke admitted he’s concerned about the starting depth.
“Rotational depth, regardless of if you have five healthy guys or not, it’s a concern,” he said. “Today’s baseball is a concern. You have to deal with it because five starters are not going through a season anymore. So the more depth you have when these things crop up, whether it’s one guy, two or three, you’re more able to handle what happens and the length of time that it happens.”