Chris Sale is eager to help the Red Sox in any role

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 20: Starting pitcher Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the top of the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park on August 20, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 20: Starting pitcher Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the top of the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park on August 20, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images) /
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Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale is nearing a return to the mound

Chris Sale returned to Fenway Park this week to continue his rehabilitation with the Boston Red Sox. While he’s not ready to take the mound yet, the lefty is taking positive steps in his recovery.

Sale has been sidelined all season due to a stress fracture in his rib cage that he suffered during the lockout. The Red Sox had hoped to get him back in the rotation by early June but a personal medical issue halted his progress for about a week and half, pushing back his timeline. While speaking with reporters at Fenway on Tuesday, Sale declined to elaborate on this setback, revealing only that he had some “family history stuff” that needed to be checked out. Sale assured everyone that everything is in the clear and he’s “not going to die.”

His live throwing session in Fort Myers on Monday was the first time in months that Sale had faced hitters. Sale showed the type of velocity that was lacking when he returned from Tommy John surgery at the end of last season, hitting 96 mph during that session. He’ll face live hitters again on Thursday before the team determines his next step, which could be the beginning of a rehab assignment.

The steady progress is encouraging but it’s clear that Sale is chomping at the bit to get back on the mound.

"“I’m as good as a sack of potatoes right now for this team,” Sale said. “At least that would feed them. I’m doing literally nothing to help this team. That sucks.”"

The Red Sox rotation is currently down two starters but they aren’t going to rush Sale back just because other guys are hurt. Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Whitlock could potentially be ready to return from their respective injuries before Sale. Even though Sale is the only one among that trio of pitchers who is actually healthy at the moment, he’ll need more time to build up his arm strength since it’s been much longer since he has pitched in a game.

One way to accelerate Sale’s timeline would be by converting him into a reliever. He might not need as many rehab outings since there wouldn’t be the need to build up his pitch count. Sale also wouldn’t need to wait to make his next appearance every five days. I’ve recently made the case for inserting Sale into the closer role, shoring up Boston’s biggest weakness while allowing Sale to contribute meaningful innings as soon as possible.

Sale is willing to take on any role that the Red Sox ask him to do. As far as he’s concerned, pitching is pitching. If that means coming out of the bullpen, so be it. He just wants the ball.

"“If they let me, I’ll do it,” Sale said. “I don’t have any say, any care, any preference. I’m a blank sheet of paper. Just hand me the ball and I’m going to go throw it until (manager Alex Cora) comes out to tell me I’m not throwing it. And I’m going to give him some crap when he tries to do that.”"

It’s been a frustrating recovery process for Sale, who has made only nine appearances and thrown fewer than 50 innings since 2019. He’s a fiery competitor who will do anything he can to help his team win. Whether it’s as a starting pitcher or a reliever, Sale is inching closer to a return and will be ready to go as soon as the team gives him the green light.

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