The Boston Red Sox have announced that left-handed pitcher Chris Sale will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2020 season.
We still don’t know when the season will begin for the Boston Red Sox but we know that it’s already over for lefty Chris Sale.
The club announced on Thursday that their ace will undergo the dreaded Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow. The recovery period for this procedure can take a year, if not longer, ensuring that we won’t see Sale on the mound until 2021.
Sale missed the final six weeks of last season with elbow inflammation. After consulting with renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, it was determined that surgery wasn’t the best course of action at the time. He received a platelet-rich plasma injection to aid the healing process and was told to rest.
It seemed that the time off was all he needed as Sale entered camp prepared to pitch. A bout with pneumonia set back his routine and threatened to delay his season debut but he claimed his arm felt fine. That is until he tested it in a throwing session that was cut short after a mere 15 pitches when Sale felt soreness in his ailing elbow.
An MRI revealed a flexor strain in his elbow, which can be a precursor for Tommy John surgery but could also simply be treated with a couple of weeks of rest. Despite the outlook growing increasingly gloomy, we clung to the sliver of hope that Sale would be pain-free in a matter of weeks.
The lefty met with three different doctors who all advised against Tommy John surgery. While younger pitchers seem to be eager to go under the knife at the first sign of elbow trouble, this invasive surgery should be approached with caution for pitchers over 30 with fewer years ahead of them. Surgery was a last resort that the doctors wanted to hold off on for as long as possible.
We’ve reached the end of that road with Sale succumbing to a procedure that many feared was inevitable. Sale’s elbow had long been viewed as a ticking time bomb due to the torque he endures when throwing his filthy slider. It didn’t matter how many doctors told him he didn’t need surgery in the past, many fans assumed this day would come eventually. Now, here we are.
There’s a silver lining to this dreadful news. If ever there was a season to miss due to major surgery, it’s this one. The coronavirus pandemic has forced the majority of the world into isolation with large crowds banned for the foreseeable future. MLB has already delayed the start of the regular season indefinitely, with Opening Day projections rumored to extend into July or August.
With so much uncertainty of when the spread of this virus will be contained, it’s not out of the question that the season could be canceled completely. At some point there has to be a line of how far they can push back the season opener. Most ballparks aren’t equipped to play in extreme cold or snow so redefining what it means to play Winter League ball isn’t an option.
The absolute worst case scenario would be putting this decision about surgery on hold until deep into the summer when there’s hope that the season begins, only to find out that Sale’s elbow still won’t cooperate. If he waits that long to undergo the procedure then he risks missing the 2021 season as well.
By getting it over with now, Sale misses only an abbreviated season, assuming there is a season to be missed, and can return at close to full strength next spring. He will no longer have the fate of his elbow hanging over him and can focus on returning to the form that made him one of the league’s best pitchers.