As Spring Training is back in full swing and players are working to get ready after a delayed start, news is flowing like fine wine. This player is looking good, this player won’t switch positions, this player is ready for a breakout. The one piece of news that no one wants to hear: this player has an injury. The news quickly spread on Wednesday morning that Chris Sale has a stress-fracture in his rib. The ace starter who is coming off of Tommy John surgery is now on the shelf again and will not be ready for opening day. That is not the news Red Sox fans wanted to hear.
The initial report is that the fracture has been healing and isn’t expected to be a long-term issue, but when Chaim Bloom says “We’re still trying to get a read on it. He’s doing much better than he was a week ago, but we have to get him rotating and throwing and then build him up. Again, we’re talking weeks, not days before he’s throwing again,” there is cause for concern. In an already shortened and compressed Spring Training, the loss of any time for a pitcher is significant, especially one who is going to need to build up his strength and stamina already coming off of major surgery. This isn’t an injury that will allow Sale to begin pitching, just with limited capacity, it’s going to prevent him from twisting and throwing, which is pretty important for a, oh I don’t know, pitcher.
The other component is the uncertainty of bone healing and timing. For some, a bone could heal fairly quickly and be back to 100% and for others it could take quite a bit of time to fully heal. As much as Bloom indicated it’s healing and moving in the right direction, I have serious concerns and hesitations when it comes to Sale’s ultimate return timeline. My gut is that we won’t see a full strength, up-to-speed Sale now until mid-season at the earliest, which is a massive concern as the Yankees and Blue Jays (especially) are stacking their lineups and improving significantly. The Red Sox have brought in some pitching depth this offseason so far, but with more games compressed in fewer days, losing a major piece of the rotation puts them at a large disadvantage.
Coming into the season I expected Sale to need time to build up and expected pitch and innings limits in April and perhaps the beginning of May, but now that timeline is pushed at least a month or (hopefully not) two. There is no doubt this is an early blow to the Red Sox rotation.