How Chris Sale finally ended up with Tommy John surgery

Rob Bradford
March 19, 2020 - 9:30 pm

In the last two seasons, there has been something wrong with Chris Sale.

It started when he sputtered through the final few months of 2018 and then carried over to a 2019 season that saw the lefty struggle mightily before ending his campaign end on Aug. 13. 

And now, after an offseason and spring training of banking on what might be, Sale finally came to the conclusion that three words he had pushed aside throughout all of these hiccups -- Tommy John surgery -- was inevitable.

"He was just cleared to throw as scheduled a little over a week ago, and on Friday and on Sunday he threw in the cage in Fort Myers lightly and then Tuesday took it outside on the field to play catch out there and try to put a little bit more on the baseball," said Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom. "He experienced enough pain that we had to put a stop to it. He huddled with us, from folks that were on-site and on the phone where we put our heads together and made this determination. We knew obviously when he had the setback at the beginning of the month that this was a possibility. When we let the flexor calm down and ramped him up again, he didn't respond as we had hoped and that's where we are today.

"It's unfortunate, there's no real way to sugarcoat this, it's not what anybody wants. But we're going to give Chris all of the support that he needs to get through this and we know he's going to do everything he can to make sure he comes back to the incredibly high level of performance that we've seen from him throughout his career."

There is still some mystery to why it took this long for Sale to go this route, but this is what we do know:

- There is no date for the surgery with hospitals and physicians currently prioritizing the coronavirus.

- The recovery period most likely will land Sale back in the big leagues midway through the 2021 season. In recent years, Minnesota's Trevor May and Detroit's Michael Fulmer underwent Tommy John surgery in late March and both had their returns scheduled for mid-season the following year. (May came back in July, 2018, while Fulmer was eyeing a June debut this season.)

- When Sale experienced the pain Tuesday there was no need for another MRI, according to Bloom.

"There wasn’t another MRI," the CBO said. "Based on everything to this point we along with Chris we knew … We were obviously going to see how everybody felt about it based on how things unfolded but we knew if there was another reoccurrence of pain surgery was going to be the most likely option. An MRI can only tell you so much. You have to factor in symptoms and everything else surrounding something like this to make a decision. At some point when you guys talk to him he will be able to give his perspective but it was like there was one moment where he felt a rupture or anything like that. It was the consistent reoccurrence of pain in that area and just an inability to get to where he could throw full strength pain-free."

- It is impossible to push aside the problems Sale faced in the previous two years when identifying when these physical issues were born.

"I know he’s been frustrated with it and is trying to do everything he can to build this up and rehab it enough where he wouldn’t have to have surgery," said Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke. "I know surgery his velocity really fluctuated. It was frustrating for him. He would come out one day and it was 90 mph. The next day maybe it was 95 mph or above. For him to try to try to pitch the way he knows he can, I think all of us feel the surgery gives us the best opportunity for him to be that guy again, which is probably one of the top-five pitchers in the game. That’s where we’re hoping he can get back from this and be that guy again."

But given the prognosis both at the end of the 2019 season and then earlier this month why the hesitation to execute what seemed to be an inevitably?

"Based on what I know of what the determination was last summer, and obviously, I wasn’t here for it, but everything I knew, it seemed very reasonable to me," said Bloom regarding the decision not to go the surgery route immediately after last season. "This is not something you want to rush into. This surgery is a big deal, and it’s not something you want to do unless you really feel that you’re at the point where that’s what you need to do to return to the field, but based on everything that went on last summer, the symptoms, the imaging, it seemed very reasonable to me to take that time off and try to rest, try to strengthen everything and hope for a successful path forward. Obviously up until that time in early March, there was every indication that he was doing great, so it wasn’t really a consideration. I thought coming in that the decision made last summer was reasonable. Obviously, again, the imaging is not perfect and we don’t have a crystal ball with these things, but the surgery, even though the success rate is very high for this surgery, it’s not something that should be taken lightly. It results in not only significant down time, but also as is any surgery, there are risks. So it’s not something you should jump into unless you really feel like you don’t have a better option."

In other Red Sox news ...

- Bloom said no member of the Red Sox organization has tested positively for the coronavirus, although it isn't believed anyone has acutally gotten an actual test. It is believed by stating that nobody has tested positive the CBO meant there hasn't cause to seek a coronvirus test as of yet.

- Roenicke and all the coaches have left Fort Myers.

- Pitcher Josh Osich has been optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket.

- There are still pitchers and position players working out at JetBlue Park, ranging from 8-15 participants. Pitchers arrive in the morning, with hitters following in the afternoon.