Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sal is dealing with another injury
Chris Sale can’t catch a break – at least not the type of break he was hoping for. The lefty revealed that he has a stress fracture in his right rib cage and won’t be ready to begin the 2022 season, leaving a hole at the top of the Boston Red Sox rotation.
Sale explained that the injury occurred about four weeks ago but he wasn’t able to report it to the team until the lockout ended, delaying the opportunity to get an MRI and X-ray to determine the extent of the damage.
He tried pitching through the pain but it worsened in the days following a live batting practice session. After being diagnosed with a stress fracture by Dr. Patrick Joyner, Sale had no choice but to shut down his training. He’s made some progress since camp officially opened but his ribs are still tender.
The lefty doesn’t have a clear timeline for when he can get back on the mound. He’s never dealt with this injury before but based on what he’s learned about how long it takes for bones to heal, he speculated a six-to-eight week timeframe before he can start throwing again.
We should leave it to the medical staff to determine a proper timeline but Sale clearly won’t be available to begin the season and we might not see him pitching for the Red Sox before May. Once he’s cleared to throw, Sale will still need several weeks to ramp up to a starter’s workload since he’ll have missed spring training.
This is a discouraging setback for a pitcher who was sidelined for two years with neck and arm injuries. He underwent Tommy John surgery that wiped out his entire 2020 season and delayed his debut last year until August.
Sale was looking forward to finally entering a season healthy and he’s understandably frustrated by a freak injury spoiling that goal. He’s spent too much time on the sidelines in recent years and he’s chomping at the bit to get back on the mound.
In the meantime, the Red Sox rotation needs to adjust for the absence of one of their top starters. Sale was expected to compete for the honor of starting on Opening Day but that start will now go to Nathan Eovaldi by default.
Boston focused on adding pitching prior to the lockout but the additions they made were meant to provide depth for the back of the rotation. None of those pitchers can fill Sale’s shoes. James Paxton has the highest upside of the new additions but he won’t be available until the second half of the season while recovering from his own injury. Michael Wacha and Rich Hill are candidates to fill out the rotation along with Eovaldi and Nick Pivetta. Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock are also being stretched out this spring to prepare for a potential move from the bullpen to the rotation.
The Red Sox have enough arms to navigate the early-season schedule without Sale but they weren’t expecting to lean on all of these options in the rotation. They are banking on Wacha’s late-season resurgence last year carrying over to his new team and a 42-year-old Hill contributing significant innings. If either fails to pan out, they may be forced to use both Houck and Whitlock in the rotation, which would weaken the bullpen.
While the Red Sox have more pitching depth than they have had in recent seasons, Sale’s injury could put them back in the market to add another arm. They aren’t going to go chasing another ace but a more reliable middle of the rotation starter would help stabilize the pitching staff. At the very least, they should bolster their bullpen in case some of the pitchers they were counting on to serve in a relief role are needed in the rotation.
Sale has an opt-out clause in his contract that he could exercise after the season but given that he hasn’t been healthy for a few years, it’s hard to imagine him walking away from the $55 million that would be remaining on his current deal.
Fans were already grumbling about Sale’s lucrative extension being a bust when he missed significant time in recent years. They aren’t going to feel better about his contract clogging the payroll if he’s sidelined for a chunk of this season.
Sale has as much to prove as any member of the Red Sox this season but he can’t do that until he’s healthy enough to step on the mound.