Red Sox ace Chris Sale has gone on the 10 day Injured List with elbow inflammation, retroactive to August 14. The team announced the move on Saturday. In order to fill his roster spot, the club called up reliever Ryan Brasier from Triple-A Pawtucket. The hope is that Brasier has fixed whatever issues have plagued him throughout the year.
Beyond the questions about what this means for the season, concerns about his health call into question his future success. Sale going on the IL late in the season is nothing new, as he did it last year around the same time. However, last year was about Sale’s shoulder, which has always been an issue for him. This time, it’s more serious: his elbow.
Elbow injuries for pitchers sometimes can mean career-altering Tommy John surgery. Some guys can recover from it and return to form, others can’t. All players who get the surgery end up missing, at the least, a full season. The Red Sox announced that Sale’s MRI results would be looked over by Dr. James Andrews, an orthopedic surgeon who is well-known for performing Tommy John. Not exactly a vote of confidence.
Is Sale’s career effectively over? Only time will tell. When asked about the likelihood of Sale returning to the mound this year, President of Baseball Ops Dave Dombrowski flatly stated, “I don’t know one way or another at this point.”
What does this mean for the Season?
In a season filled with frustration, underperformance, and straight-up bad luck, this feels like the final nail in the coffin. The Red Sox have seen their playoff hopes slip further and further this season, and losing Chris Sale is a massive blow. He’s already one of the greatest strikeout pitchers in history. In his last start against the Indians, he recorded his 2,000th punchout. That made him the fastest pitcher in history to reach that mark, a staggering achievement.https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
Despite reaching the strikeout milestone, this year has been something of a disappointment for Sale, and the Red Sox in general. His 4.40 ERA and 3.39 FIP are the highest in his career. His 2.2 WAR is the worst since 2010, his rookie year. Granted, the season is not yet over, and unless his elbow keeps him out for the rest of the year, his WAR is likely to change.
Despite the down year, Sale’s last couple starts have looked much better, making the IL stint all the more devastating. In an August 3rd loss to the Yankees, which saw him get ejected by the home plate umpire, Sale gave up 8 runs in 3.2 innings, one of the worst starts in his career. Since then, in 14 innings against the Angels and the Indians, he’s pitched to a 1.84 ERA with 25 strikeouts. Opponents in that time have a .455 OPS against him. Historically, Sale has tended to slow down in the month of August, as many guys do late in the season. His last couple starts were an indication that he might actually be on the uptick, a backwards trend which would’ve been invaluable to the Red Sox. Now, all of that potential is in jeopardy.
What about the Future?
Will Chris Sale need Tommy John? Time will tell, especially after he visits the specialist. Will the five year extension that he signed prove to be the club’s worst contract since Pablo Sandoval? No idea. Is this all completely overblown? Will he get over the inflammation and be back in a week or two? Only time will tell.
If there’s one thing that we can count on, it’s his tenacity. At his core, Sale is one of the fiercest competitors in the game. TJ or no TJ, he’s gonna do his absolute best to get over whatever challenges present themselves. That’s just what he does, and what he’s always done. All we can do is be patient.
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Red Sox Tom is a Sox and Patriots fan. He’s a Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and Tom Brady enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter @PrimeJD.