The Red Sox have made clear their intention not to rush ace left-hander Chris Sale back to action, but we'd still like an idea of when we might see him.
So consider the following:
- The Red Sox have maintained for nearly a year that he shouldn't be expected back until June at the earliest.
- He suffered a setback around the holidays when he strained his neck. The injury was described as minor, but serious enough to delay his timetable.
- Sale told reporters Thursday that he recently contracted COVID-19 and had to be placed in quarantine, though he was lucky only to experience mild symptoms that included a loss of taste and smell. That's another two-week setback.
- He has yet to throw off a mound and isn't sure when that's going to happen. He must progress from flat ground to mound to bullpen to live BP to simulated game to rehab assignment before he can even think about taking the ball in a big league game.
Add all of that together, and it's suddenly hard to envision seeing him before July or even August.
"I don't want to be vague with you guys, obviously," Sale said from Fort Myers via Zoom. "But you guys know how I operate and I said at the beginning of the process that I don't want to get too far ahead. I'm not looking at a month from now, two months from now, even a season. I can't. That wouldn't be fair to myself or my teammates or anybody involved in that process. The mound comes when it comes. Like I said, I take it a day at a time and I'm doing everything I can to get back out there as soon as I can."
Sale underwent Tommy John surgery last March 30 on his 31st birthday. Teammate Nathan Eovaldi, who's no stranger to medical procedures, advised Sale to break up his rehab into two-week chunks in order to avoid being overwhelmed by the long view.
Sale admitted that there have been "bumps along the way," but said he has stuck to that approach.
"It's getting the cast off and then getting the stitches out and starting the rehab and little things in the rehab, and then you go to pick up a ball and you start pushing and pulling and getting to move your arm around and then throwing and so on and so forth and just appreciating those moments when they come and just working as hard as I can to make it go faster," Sale said.
There's little motivation for the Red Sox to rush him, however. He's entering the second year of a five-year, $145 million extension that includes an opt-out after the 2022 season. The Red Sox want to maximize as much of peak Sale as they can, and rushing him back in 2021 when they aren't necessarily legitimate World Series contenders runs counter to that mission.
"I guess the silver lining through all of this is my elbow has been on track since Day 1," Sale said. "Nothing off track with that. That's been kind of steady throughout the whole process. We dealt with the neck thing a little bit and we're back on track. I know I keep saying it, but I was here by myself the whole summer, so it's nice to get back, have people around and feel like a ballplayer again. I've been doing this a while and I've never been more excited for spring training, doing PFPs, running. Just feeling normal again."