Red Sox

Pedro Martinez practicing tough love with Red Sox' Eduardo Rodriguez

Pedro Martinez practicing tough love with Red Sox' Eduardo Rodriguez

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Pedro Martinez took no prisoners as a player, be it nearly no-hitting the Rays after Gerald Williams charged him, olé-ing Don Zimmer in a brawl with the Yankees, or demanding someone wake up the damn Bambino so he could "drill him in the ass."

Since retiring and becoming a pitching consultant with the Red Sox, however, Martinez has taken the more genial approach, tooling around camp like a younger Luis Tiant, offering wisdom and encouragement to Red Sox pitchers of all ages and abilities, happy to impart some of the knowledge that made him not just the most feared pitcher of his generation, but a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Martinez is particularly proud of left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who finally harnessed his considerable talent last season en route to a career-high 19 wins and sixth-place finish in the AL Cy Young Award voting. Had the rest of the starting staff stayed healthy, E-Rod's emergence may have positioned the Red Sox to repeat as World Series champions.

Instead, injuries to Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi left the rotation in tatters and the Red Sox out of the playoffs.

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While Martinez may operate at age 48 with a perpetual grin, he can still provide tough love when it's warranted, and Rodriguez is a player he and others in the organization haven't hesitated to ride when they feel his focus slipping.

"There were times I had to be hard on him," he said. "He took it like a man. He took it from Price. He took it from [Rick] Porcello. He learned discipline. He wanted to do all the things he needed to, including having those hard times to hear us say hey, 'Strap it on right now.' He took it. He did it the right way, and right now it's paying great dividends."

The test for E-Rod following his breakout campaign will be repeating it. As Martinez noted, Price and Porcello stayed on Rodriguez practically from Day 1 of spring training last year, and former manager Alex Cora rode him, too.

Rodriguez, the Venezuelan who turns 27 in April, will need to be more self-motivated this season with all three of them gone.

"Now he's confident," Martinez said. "He knows that having success is so fulfilling for someone like him. How do you keep him [motivated]? Baseball is a humbling sport. Today you're on top, tomorrow you could be on the bottom. Just keep him focused on the work he has to do, keep him excited about the things he does on the field, and actually appreciating the things he does right. When you fall in love with doing things right, normally you're going to strive for success."

Rodriguez threw live BP on Wednesday under Martinez's watchful eye. Like the other pitchers on the roster, he's expected to make six starts this spring so he can hit the ground running on Opening Day, March 26, in Toronto.

In the bigger picture, though, the question is if he can avoid complacency and do it again. Martinez is ready with a message on this subject.

"Imagine how E-Rod went back during the winter, once he laid his head on the pillow," Martinez said. "He said, 'I did my job.' That's what you want to have when you go home — the sensation that you tried hard, you did your job, you earned your salary, everybody is at peace with you, everyone wants a piece of you, everybody wants to see you. It is a great feeling.

"That's how we keep him motivated. We keep him thinking about those great moments, and striving to be better every single day."

How Chris Sale was able to have Tommy John surgery amid coronavirus shutdown

How Chris Sale was able to have Tommy John surgery amid coronavirus shutdown

In a vacuum, it was a standard announcement from the Boston Red Sox on Monday.

"Left-handed pitcher Chris Sale today underwent successful left UCL reconstruction ('Tommy John surgery,')" the team's statement read. "The procedure was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache at the Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, CA."

But when you consider the circumstances -- that California is under a state-wide shelter-in-place order amid the global coronavirus pandemic -- it's pretty remarkable that Sale walked into a medical facility to undergo a non-essential operation.

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So, how did Sale and the Red Sox pull this off?

According to Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, the team had plenty of internal debate before Sale flew to California on Monday.

"It was important to all of us to do this in a way that would not place any undue burden on anyone suffering due to coronavirus,” Bloom said Monday night in a conference call, via MassLive.com's Chris Cotillo.

"I spoke to Dr. ElAttrache personally to make sure that was the case here and he is just as mindful of the considerations that go along with surgery at a time like this. ... We know this is not life and death and that there are people who are suffering in situations that are life and death."

Los Angeles County (where Sale had his surgery) recently issued a memo recommending all elective surgeries be "limited" until further notice. But the memo didn't explicitly ban such operations, and ElAttrache is of the belief that they're borderline essential for top pitchers like Sale.

"I know that I’m going to get criticized for taking care of these kinds of guys, but it’s essential to their livelihoods," ElAttrache told the San Francisco Chronicle last week. "If you have somebody’s career at stake and they lose two seasons instead of one, I would say that is not a nonessential or unimportant elective procedure."

While ElAttrache's shop is still open, others are already shut down: Orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews recently announced he's suspending all Tommy John surgeries at his Florida clinic amid the pandemic.

The Red Sox revealed Sale would need surgery back on March 19 and didn't provide any updates until after Sale's operation Monday. So, why the delay?

Bloom told the reporters the team was working out logistics and making sure it was safe for Sale to go under the knife.

"I think under normal circumstances, we might have been able to have it happen a little bit sooner,” Bloom said. "Obviously, we’re still talking about a relatively short timetable. There’s usually a lag of a few days at a minimum to get something like this done, even in normal times. It was a little longer in this case just because of all the considerations that I discussed."

Sale faces a 14- to 15-month recovery that should sideline him until at least June 2021. But the 31-year-old likely is grateful he was able to have the operation at all before the pandemic worsens in the United States, which already has the most confirmed coronavirus cases than any country in the world.

Chaim Bloom estimates when Chris Sale could return from Tommy John surgery

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File Photo

Chaim Bloom estimates when Chris Sale could return from Tommy John surgery

Chris Sale turned 31 on Monday. He also had Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow on that same day. The procedure will sideline him for at least the rest of the 2020 season and beyond. 

But when exactly can we expect Sale back? Boston Red Sox chief of baseball operations, Chaim Bloom, wouldn't confirm to an exact date, but he did provide some insight into how long Sale might be sidelined.

"We don't know exactly," Bloom said, per Christopher Smith of MassLive.com. "Typically you see around that 14-15 month range."

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Okay, so maybe that's not the most specific answer, but it at least gives us a ballpark idea of when Sale could return.

A 14-15 month recovery period would have Sale return sometime between early June and early July in 2021, if his recovery goes well. Of course, there are so many variables to take into account about how Sale may be progressing but also about how the Sox may be faring. If they aren't doing well, the team could take an extremely cautious approach with Sale in hopes of having him fully healthy for the 2022 season.

But Bloom's estimate at least gives Sox fans an initial target for Sale's potential return. The target date will certainly be fluid especially considering that some pitchers take 18 months to return from the surgery.

But no matter what, Sale won't be suiting up for the Red Sox until mid-2021 at the earliest. And that's bad news for the squad considering their lack of starting pitching depth.