Chris Sale reveals elbow surgery was never an option

Rob Bradford
February 16, 2020 - 4:01 pm

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When Chris Sale was forced to shut down his season after an Aug. 13 start in Cleveland due to left elbow soreness, the worst was feared. 

The fact that this was an elbow issue and he was going to visit with Dr. James Andrews pointed toward three of the dirtiest words a pitcher can hear: Tommy John surgery.

And even though the initial diagnosis didn't lead to such an operation, the fact that such a path wasn't ruled out -- with a second visit scheduled six months out from a PRP injection -- paved the way for continued anxiety. Then there was the delay in that trip to Pensacola and the idea of Sale coming into 2020 without some sort of delay seemed unlikely.

But as the pitcher put it when meeting with the media Sunday morning, he wasn't -- and isn't -- worried.

"I knew I was in good hands," Sale said. "I knew I had gone to see the best doctor in the world for this. No one at any point was ever worried. I guess it was a major injury, but no one was ever stressed. At least in front of me. I went and saw James Andrews and he just looked at like, 'Yeah, man, you're going to be all right. Throw some PRP in that thing, see you in a few weeks, and we'll be good to go.' All right, he's the best of the best. He can do this with his eyes closed I'm pretty sure now. When he gives you that level of confidence, it makes you feel more confident moving forward."

As Sale explained it, the difficulty came with living an existence he had never experienced.

"I feel better than I have in a long time, actually," he noted. "I've never taken that time off before. I don't know if since I started playing baseball if I've had that time off. Obviously, it's something you don't want to have to go through, that was miserable, but there are silver linings in everything. You try to take the positives in every crappy scenario that comes up. I think that time off helped my entire body regenerate, my shoulder, my elbow, my forearm, every muscle in my body got a long break and a time to heal. I think in the end it will help me out in the long run.
"Just not throwing, not playing. Being in Florida in August, I've never done that, I've never not traveled with a team. Watching my team play from my bed or from my couch at my house is just a weird feeling. That's uncharted territory for me. Just the question. Until you start throwing again, you don't know what it feels like. I can do all these exercises, I can lift every weight, I can do strength tests, I can move my arm in all different directions, but until you throw a baseball, you have no idea what you're working with. That was a great day for me, starting to throw again and actually seeing the progress we had made in the training room translate to the field."

The challenge now has not so much to do with his elbow as it does playing catch from a recent bout of pneumonia.

Sale -- who was back working out at JetBlue Park Sunday -- is hopeful his recent time off doesn't lead to missing Opening Day, but he also understands those sort of decisions are out of his hands.

Whenever he does return to the mound, Sale is banking on his time off from 2019 to fix whatever ailed him -- both physically and mechanically -- throughout what was the worst season of his career (6-11, 4.40 ERA in 25 starts).

"You learn a lot about yourself when you're just sitting around and you've got nothing going on," the lefty said. "I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with my family, my wife, who was pregnant at the time. We have a three-month-old at the house now. My middle son is 3, my oldest son is 9, so I got to spend some more time with them, be around my family, and kind of look back and think about some stuff and learn about who I was last year and how I was pitching and things like that. All that together, you just learn to appreciate things more and come in here to spring training ready to start a new year. As bad as I was last year, I learned a lot, and that's going to help me going forward. Last year was tough, you guys saw it. I was out there throwing batting practice half the time. But you learn from that. It makes you better, makes you stronger, mentally, physically, just try to build off of that.
"Towards the end of the year, it seemed like I was starting to figure some things out. I sat down with our pitching guys and Banny and just were going over my pitching lanes and working pitches off each other and my arm action and my delivery. I had to change some things up. It will be fun being able to continue that because it obviously got derailed after Cleveland, so just getting back to that, where I was before, and just try to carry that throughout the season."