FORT MYERS, Fla. – The baseball lockout ended, and Red Sox manager Alex Cora was finally able to call his players.
That’s when Chris Sale gave them the bad news: He was injured again.
“'Hey how’s it going?’ Well, not so good, actually,” Sale said, recalling the conversations he had with Cora and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom last week. “So that’s when they became aware of it.”
A seven-time All-Star and the Boston ace when healthy, Sale said Wednesday that he will spend opening day on the injured list for the third straight season — this time with a stress fracture in his rib cage.
The news came on the day before the team was scheduled to start its lockout-shortened spring training schedule against the Minnesota Twins, and three weeks before the April 7 regular-season opener against the Yankees in New York.
With Sale out, Cora confirmed that Nathan Eovaldi will be the opening day starter.
“I built a ... racecar and it broke down before the race started. So it’s back in the garage trying to fix it up," Sale told reporters at the team's spring training complex. “I’m just waiting, like a dog on a chain right now. I can’t wait to get off this thing.”
Sale, who turns 33 this month, missed all of 2020 and made only nine starts last year while recovering from Tommy John surgery. There is no timetable for his return, but the broken rib is expected to take 6-8 weeks to heal before Sale can even begin pitching workouts.
“He’s not throwing, basically, at this point. We’re talking weeks, not days, until we can get a baseball in his hands,” Bloom said. “It’s a bone that needs to heal. We have to respect the time that it takes.”
Sale said is isn’t sure how the injury occurred, but he began feeling discomfort after a Feb. 24 workout at Florida Gulf Coast University. Over the next five days, he felt progressively worse, but because of the lockout, he wasn’t able to contact the Red Sox or their medical staff.
“I couldn’t do my normal routine of things if this were to happen any other year,” Sale said.
Could the injury have been avoided or mitigated if the team had supervised his workouts or had access to him immediately when he first felt discomfort?
“We may never know exactly where and how this started,” Bloom said. “We would have loved to have had him here. That wasn’t possible.”
Sale went 5-1 with a 3.16 ERA last season, when he also missed time after testing positive for COVID-19 in September. He also made three starts in the postseason, including a loss in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series against Houston.
“We saw him — little by little — getting there,” Cora said. “There’s no doubt in my mind when he comes back he’s going to be sound, he’s going to be good and he’s going to prove it.”
Cora said the team was encouraged by Sale's improvement at the end of 2021 and had hoped this would be a normal season for the pitcher who finished in the top 6 of the AL Cy Young voting in seven straight seasons before a series of injuries that have plagued his last three seasons in Boston.
“The way my body was feeling before all this happened — I was throwing off a mound a lot better than I had been at that time in previous years. I had a little bit more to prove coming into to this spring training,” he said. “I wanted to be ready. That’s obviously not the case now.”
Sale confirmed that he has chosen to remain unvaccinated. The injury means he will probably avoid the uncomfortable position of sitting out the Red Sox series in Toronto April 25-28 because Canada requires a player to be fully vaccinated to enter the country.
“Got more teammates picking up the slack, doing my job, (while I'm) getting paid to do nothing," Sale said. “That sucks. And I'm not afraid to say it. That’s who I am. That’s what I believe. All I can do is show up every day, try to get this thing right and go back out there and try to do my job.”
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