Red Sox ace Chris Sale began his highly-anticipated rehab assignment on Thursday afternoon, and it’s safe to say things got off to a positive start.
Starting for the rookie-level Florida Complex League Red Sox in their contest against the FCL Orioles Orange team at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Sale was scheduled to throw two innings, but wound up going three instead.
Over those three frames, the veteran left-hander kept the Orioles off the scoreboard while scattering just four hits and zero walks to go along with five strikeouts on the day.
After working his way around a leadoff single in an otherwise perfect first inning, Sale put himself in a bit of a jam in the bottom of the second, as he fanned the first batter of the inning before putting two straight Orioles on on back-to-back singles.
Faced with runners on the corners and two outs still to get, the 32-year-old dialed it up and punched out both Ricardo Castro and Luis Sena in consecutive order to get out of the inning.
In the third inning, Sale again allowed another runner to reach base on a one-out double, but got Moises Ramirez to ground out and followed that up by striking out the last man he faced — Isaac Bellony — on three pitches to end his outing on an encouraging note.
Of the 13 Orioles who came to the plate against him on Thursday, Sale induced two groundouts and one fly out in addition to the five punchouts. He finished with a final pitch count of 39.
Per SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall, Sale relied on his fastball, slider, and changeup over the course of his three innings pitched. The fiery southpaw topped out at 94 mph with his heater, hovered around 78-79 mph with his slider, and sat between 85-87 mph with his changeup.
Cundall also noted that Sale’s feel for his secondary pitches improved as he threw them more and that the majority of the contact he gave up was weak.
Sale, as you may recall, is on the road back from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent on March 30, 2020 — his 31st birthday — after experiencing inflammation in his throwing elbow throughout the latter half of the 2019 season.
The seven-time All-Star last appeared in a major-league game on August 13, 2019, when he struck out 12 over 6 2/3 innings against the Indians at Progressive Field.
In working his way back from Tommy John, Sale has now reached the point where he can face live hitters, as he has done on a frequent basis since late June.
Under the pretext that he wakes up Friday morning without feeling any sort of pain or discomfort in his left elbow, Sale could be in line to make his second rehab start early next week seeing how he has been pitching every five days.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora had previously said that the club would like to keep Sale close to Boston while he rehabs so that he has easy access to the team’s medical staff. With that condition in mind, it appears likely that Sale’s next outing will come with Double-A Portland, per Cora.
The Sea Dogs open up a 12-game homestand at Hadlock Field beginning on Tuesday, July 20, so that should be the date for Sale’s next rehab start if he continues to pitch on four days rest. He probably would see his workload increase to four innings as well.
(Picture of Chris Sale: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)