Chris Sale keeps giving the Red Sox reasons to get excited for his impending return to the mound.
On Wednesday afternoon, Sale threw a live batting practice session at Fenway Park. marking the second time he has faced hitters since undergoing Tommy John surgery last March.
Facing off against the right-handed bats of Christian Arroyo and Connor Wong in near-100 degree heat in the Fenway-area, the ace left-hander threw 15 pitches and topped out at 95 mph with his fastball, per The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.
Wednesday’s outing marked another important milestone for Sale, and it was one that, quite frankly, left Red Sox manager Alex Cora thoroughly impressed with what he saw from the lefty.
“What we saw today was eye-opening,” Cora said earlier Wednesday afternoon. “Good slider, good changeup, 94-95 mph velocity. We just got to be patient. But he’s already making an impact in the clubhouse — just his mere presence. His knowledge, his communication with other guys is helping. I know he’s looking forward to contributing on the field, but so far, he’s made an impact already on this club.”
What about Sale’s performance was so “eye-opening” in Cora’s view? Well, his command of the strike zone certainly helped.
“Just his command of the pitches. That’s something that I didn’t expect,” said Cora. “He was able to throw fastballs inside, fastballs arm-side up and away to put people away. The changeup was good, the slider was good. And that’s something that — throughout the process — I do believe that’s kind of like the last thing you get, right? The changeup and command. And for him to be dotting pitches already, that’s a great sign.”
Assuming Sale wakes up on Thursday without any sort of issue, the next step for the 32-year-old hurler will be to throw to hitters once again sometime next week, according to Cora. That will however take place in Fort Myers — and last two innings as opposed to just one — since the Red Sox will be out on the west coast and Sale will not be traveling with the team.
From there, Sale could be ready to head out on a rehab assignment with a minor-league affiliate by next week, though Boston would like to keep him close by (with Double-A Portland or Triple-A Worcester) as opposed to far away (with Low-A Salem or High-A Greenville).
“[Head trainer Brad Pearson] feels like we should keep [Sale] around and play him at the highest two levels (Double-A and Triple-A),” Cora said. “And the fact that Worcester is right here, the facilities are good, we can do the same thing we used to do in Pawtucket. They get their work in here, then they go over there and pitch. I think that’s what Brad envisions, so hopefully that’s the case.”
Sale, who underwent Tommy John surgery on March 30, 2020 — his 31st birthday — last pitched in a major-league game on August 13, 2019.
As noted by The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham, Sale could be ready to make his return to the Red Sox’ starting rotation by late July or early August depending on how many rehab starts he requires.
If that plan comes to fruition and Sale is activated off the injured list within the coming weeks, the Sox would be adding a seven-time All-Star to their rotation at just the right time for the home stretch of the regular season and beyond.
“It’s like I said before, ‘Nobody can trade for Chris Sale,'” Cora said emphatically. “We can add Chris Sale to the equation. This is a guy, he’s looking forward to contribute. He’s in a great frame of mind. Physically, he looks tremendous.”
(Picture of Chris Sale: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)