Chris Sale returns to the Boston Red Sox on Saturday. Finally.
His season debut has been highly anticipated after missing more than a season recovering from Tommy John surgery, and the lefty couldn’t be inserted back into the picture at a better time.
But amid a slump, losing ground in the American League East by the day, the Red Sox won’t be rolling Sale out to the hill and expect him to save the season as if he were in mid-season form.
They’ll be taking things much slower than that, whether Sale likes it or not.
“I mean it’s April for him,” manager Alex Cora told reporters Friday, one day ahead of Sale’s first start of the season. “We’ll take care of him early on. That’s why it’s the extra days, and he’s gonna get to the point that you know he’s gonna pick up regular days and then it’s a full go, but if we want to put into context what we do, it’s April for him.”
Boston has been conservative with Sale’s workload to this point, easing him back in hopes he can contribute at a high level during a postseason run.
Newly acquired bat Kyle Schwarber made his debut for Boston on Friday despite not taking any at-bats in a rehab assignment, but given Sale’s injury history (and his contract), they operated completely different with the pitcher.
“With Chris, obviously, I do believe the contract has to do a lot with it, you know?” Cora admitted. “This is not only for the present, but he’s huge part of the future so it’s two different situations. And two different situations that we feel like they’re gonna contribute this year to help us win the division and get into October.”
That being said, no pressure.
The rehab starts were promising, but no matter what happens to Sale’s stat line Saturday, the Red Sox aren’t expecting him to give a peak performance.
If he does, wonderful. But realistically, given all it took for him to get back, Sale’s team is just happy to finally have him back.
“I think Nate (Eovaldi) put in perfect words a few days ago,” Cora said. “He can go out there in throw six scoreless innings and no hits and strikeout 10 and we’ll be happy. Or he can go out there and give up 10 in the first inning and we’ll be happy. I think tomorrow is about him coming back. The stuff and all that, that we can talk about later on. The only expectation that I have tomorrow is to have that guy on the mound. I know how much he worked to get back to this place. I know how disappointed he was in August of 2019.
“Of course we want to win, of course we want him to dominate, but it’s more than that. It’s about this kid, putting in the work, going out there and then performing at the big league level. Then after that we can talk about his stuff.”
Fortunately for Sale, his first outing will be against the struggling Baltimore Orioles. Hopefully the Red Sox can get him some run support to take the burden off a bit.
First pitch between Boston and Baltimore is at 4:10 p.m. ET.