Boston Red Sox: A healthy Chris Sale could be huge in 2020

Boston Red Sox Chris Sale. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
Boston Red Sox Chris Sale. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images) /

After his 2019 season was wrecked by elbow trouble, Boston Red Sox lefthander Chris Sale says his arm is in good shape as spring training has begun.

Chris Sale did not enjoy a banner season after turning 30 last year, as the Boston Red Sox lefthander struggled through the worst season of his career.

The seven-time All-Star who has twice finished in the top three of the American League Cy Young voting, including a second-place finish in his first season with the Red Sox in 2017, got off to a poor start in 2019 and, except for a few brief moments, never really got a lot better.

Sale posted an ugly 6.30 ERA in six April starts last season, giving up seven home runs in 30 innings after surrendering only 11 long balls in 158 innings the previous season and allowed a frightful opposing slash line of .271/.333/.534.

He had his best stretch of the season from May 3-June 15, making nine starts and posting a 2.09 ERA with just 11 walks and 98 strikeouts in 60.1 innings, including 17 strikeouts in just seven innings against the Colorado Rockies at Fenway Park on May 14, setting a major-league record for most Ks by a pitcher in seven innings or less.

Chris Sale had a couple of more effective outings the rest of the way, fanning 12 in six innings while allowing two hits and two walks in a win over the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway on July 18 and fanning 13 on just two hits ad no walks over eight innings to beat the Los Angeles Angels on Aug. 8.

But after getting roughed up for five runs — three earned —  on five hits in 6.2 innings against the Cleveland Indians on Aug. 13, Sale was shut down the rest of the season with the elbow problem, one he talked about Sunday at the Red Sox spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla.

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Sale has been slowed at the start of camp due to pneumonia, according to Lauren Campbell of NESN, but the troublesome elbow has not been a concern.

"“No one at any point was ever worried. I guess this 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 looks at it, he’s like, ‘Yeah, man. You’ll be all right. Throw some PRP in that thing, I’ll see you in a few weeks and we’ll be good to go.’“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.”"

Sale finished last season with a 4.40 ERA and a still better-than-average 109 ERA+ in 147.1 innings, striking out 218 and walking just 37, but also allowing 24 home runs — the same number he allowed in an American League-high 214.1 innings in 2017.

But he also said he had done some throwing before coming down with his respiratory illness and all seemed well.

Sale’s 1.5 home runs allowed per nine innings was a career-worst, while the 7.5 hits per nine innings allowed was the most he had given up since 2016, his last season with the Chicago White Sox.

The Boston Red Sox could definitely use a healthy Chris Sale after a turbulent offseason that included the firing of manager Alex Cora in the wake of the Houston Astros‘ sign-stealing scandal and last week’s trade of former MVP Mookie Betts and David Price for two minor leaguers and an outfielder with a broken back.

OK, so Alex Verdugo has a stress fracture, but he may not be ready Opening Day, according to Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe.

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So any good health news is good health news at this point for the Sox.