Red Sox face early challenge with Chris Sale opening season on injured list
Boston Red Sox left-handed pitcher Chris Sale will open the 2020 season on the injured list due to his spring routine being delayed by illness.
We have about a month to go before the Boston Red Sox must decide on an Opening Day starter but one option we can cross off the list is the ace who would have been the logical choice. Interim manager Ron Roenicke revealed that Chris Sale will open the season on the injured list, reports The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.
The silver lining is that the delay is unrelated to the ailing elbow that shut down his 2019 campaign prematurely or any other concerns with his prized left arm. Sale battled pneumonia earlier this month and while he appears to be fully recovered from the illness, the interruption to his routine has set him back a couple of weeks.
This could potentially be a blessing in disguise for the Red Sox. Sale has a history of wearing down late in the season so it would be wise to monitor his workload following consecutive seasons in which injuries limited him to fewer than 160 innings. If the Red Sox intend to compete this season, they will need their ace at full strength for the stretch run and into the postseason.
It’s also a great sign that the team isn’t rushing Sale. Roenicke indicated that he wants to give the lefty six starts before he takes the mound for a regular season game. That may require an extending spring training outing, which would explain the stint on the injured list. This will allow him proper time to build up his velocity and workload.
Sale was limited to three starts and a mere nine innings in spring training last year in an attempt to preserve his arm for the long haul. The plan backfired when he clearly wasn’t ready when the season began. Sale was shelled in a few of his early outings and owned a brutal 8.50 ERA through four starts. The Red Sox aren’t going to risk making that mistake again.
Always the fiery competitor, Sale will be chomping at the bit to get back. He’s not thrilled about missing time but he understands why the team is holding him back.
The delayed start to the season is what’s best for Sale but it will be a challenge for a Red Sox rotation that is already struggling to fill five spots. It’s unclear which of their underwhelming options will win the battle for the No. 5 spot this spring – that’s without mentioning the questions surrounding their No. 3 and 4 starters.
Boston will be forced to patch together some innings in Sale’s absence. They were already toying with the idea of using an Opener, a strategy popularized by the Tampa Bay Rays during Chaim Bloom’s tenure with the organization. That plan now seems certain for at least the first couple of weeks of the season and Roenicke isn’t ruling out the idea of using an Opener for two rotation spots if candidates fail to emerge this spring.
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MLB moved to a 10-day injured list a few years back but they are tweaking the rule to revert the duration to 15 days for pitchers starting this year. The Red Sox can make Sale’s IL stint retroactive to the end of camp but that still means he’ll be sidelined for at least the first two weeks of the season.
The early-season schedule is often littered with off days but that’s not the case this year. Friday April 3, the day after the Red Sox host the White Sox for their Home Opener, is their only off day through the first 20 games of the season. Sale will end up missing at least two starts, with the earliest he can debut falling during their trip to Seattle beginning April 9. It’s reasonable to assume Sale will return during that six-game road trip that ends in Oakland, with the exact date depending on when his last spring training tune-up outing is scheduled.
Two weeks isn’t very long in the grand scheme of a 162-game schedule but it was only a year ago that we found out the hard way how a struggling rotation can quickly bury a team. An unprepared group of starting pitchers struggled throughout a grueling 11-game west coast trip to open the season. Boston was floundering at 4-9 two weeks into the schedule, dropping them into a six-game hole in the division race that they never climbed out of.
The pitching staff should get a normal workload this spring, which will certainly help. It might not be enough without Sale. This rotation will also miss David Price – say what you want about unloading his contract, he’s much more talented than the pitcher who will replace him. Run support will be a bit harder to come by without a certain former MVP leading off.
Sale should be able to hit the ground running when he does return. He’s finally healthy and will have had sufficient time to build up his arm. Expect a bounce-back year from the seven-time All-Star. Whether or not that leads to the Red Sox bouncing back to playoff contention may depend on if they can stay afloat for a couple of weeks without him.