The first Sale Day of 2021 has finally arrived.
Before taking on the Orioles in the second game of their three-game weekend series at Fenway Park on Saturday, the Red Sox made a series of roster moves.
First off, ace left-hander Chris Sale was returned from his rehab assignment with Triple-A Worcester and activated from the 60-day injured list, while catcher Christian Vazquez was activated from the bereavement list.
Secondly, in order to make room for both Sale and Vazquez on Boston’s major-league roster, both right-hander Yacksel Rios and catcher Connor Wong were optioned to Worcester, the club announced earlier Saturday afternoon.
Sale will make his first start for the Red Sox in just over two years in Saturday’s contest against the Orioles as he makes his highly-anticipated return from Tommy John surgery.
After starting the 2021 season on the 60-day injured list on account of the fact that he was still recovering from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent last March (on his 31st birthday), Sale was first sent out on a rehab assignment with the rookie-level Florida Complex League Red Sox in mid-July.
In five rehab outings between the FCL Red Sox, Double-A Portland, and Triple-A Worcester from July 15 through August 7, the 32-year-old hurler posted a 1.35 ERA and 1.59 FIP to go along with 35 strikeouts to just five walks over 20 total innings of work.
Because Saturday will mark Sale’s first major-league appearance in approximately 732 days, the Sox will surely look to manage the seven-time All-Star’s workload effectively so that he does not overexert himself and remains in line to make his next start against the Rangers this coming Friday.
By activating Sale from the 60-day injured list, the Red Sox were able to utilize the open spot on their 40-man roster that was created on Friday when utility man Marwin Gonzalez was designated for assignment at the same time Kyle Schwarber was activated from the 10-day IL.
Catching Sale in his season debut will be Vazquez, who makes his return to Boston’s lineup after missing three days of action while on the bereavement list.
Vazquez, who will hit out of the eight-hole on Saturday, has caught Sale on 17 previous occasions. The veteran lefty has put up a 4.61 ERA and .763 OPS against over 84 innings pitched while the 30-year-old backstop out of Puerto Rico was calling the shots behind the plate.
With both Sale and Vazquez being activated, Rios and Wong wound up getting sent down to the WooSox.
Rios, acquired from the Mariners in exchange for cash considerations on June 14, pitched to the tune of a 3.70 ERA with 21 strikeouts and 14 walks across 20 relief appearances (24 1/3 innings pitched) in his first stint with the Sox.
Wong, meanwhile, heads back to Worcester after being called up in place of Vazquez this past Wednesday.
The 25-year-old catching prospect appeared as a defensive replacement for Kevin Plawecki in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s 20-8 rout of the Rays, and he made his lone at-bat count by recording his first career triple and RBI in the blowout victory.
Through six games spanning four separate stints with the Red Sox now, Wong has gone 4-for-13 (.308) with one double, one triple, one RBI, three runs scored, one walk, and seven strikeouts over 14 total plate appearances.
While it’s likely both Rios and Wong will be up with the big-league club once more before season’s end, the Red Sox will be taking on the Orioles without them on Saturday afternoon.
Sale, again, will be getting the ball for Boston, while right-hander Jorge Lopez will be doing the same for Baltimore.
Here is how the Red Sox will be lining up behind Sale:
First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.
(Picture of Chris Sale and Christian Vazquez: Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)