With the Red Sox struggling, it will still be a while before two big reinforcements are back on the mound. Boston chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told reporters Saturday that Chris Sale’s rehab from a stress fracture in his ribcage has been delayed by another medical issue, one not related to baseball or to COVID-19, via The Boston Globe’s Julian McWilliams and MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith. Sale has yet to resume throwing, and his return from the 60-day injured list is now expected for late June.
James Paxton is also dealing with some posterior elbow soreness, which is concerning since Paxton is just over a year removed from Tommy John surgery. That rehab was already expected to keep Paxton from returning until around June or July, but this latest soreness could very well push back Paxton’s timeline, even though the southpaw is expected to resume throwing soon.
Paxton signed a one-year “swellopt” contract with Boston prior to the lockout, which will pay the left-hander $10M in guaranteed money in 2022, and potentially up to $32M over the 2022-24 seasons depending on whether or not the Red Sox exercise a pair of club options. Naturally, the deal was signed with the knowledge that Paxton would miss a good chunk of the 2022 season, but Boston’s 10-17 record to date might change the equation. While there is still plenty of time left for the Sox to turn things around, falling too far back in the competitive AL East might lead Bloom and company to consider selling at the trade deadline.
Sale is no stranger to Tommy John recoveries, as a TJ procedure sidelined him for the entire 2020 season and delayed his 2021 debut until August. Since elbow problems also shut Sale down early in the 2019 campaign, the veteran lefty has pitched only 51 2/3 innings (in the regular season and postseason) since August 14, 2019.
Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill have all pitched very well in Boston’s rotation this year, while Nick Pivetta has struggled and Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck have split duties as both starters and relievers. Whitlock has been the better of the two, and Bloom said that Whitlock will be officially moved into the starting five while Hill is sidelined with a positive COVID-19 test.
Whitlock will start Tuesday’s game against the Braves, which will mark his fourth consecutive start. Thus far, Whitlock has been just about as dominant in the rotation as he has in the bullpen, with a 1.50 ERA over his first 12 innings as a starting pitcher. The Sox have been gradually building Whitlock’s pitch counts over those three starts, and he could now be close to being stretched out enough to operate in a more normal starting capacity.
Both Hill and Enrique Hernandez were placed on the COVID-related IL Friday, though Hernandez was already activated Saturday, as his symptoms weren’t coronavirus-related. In the corresponding move, Jarren Duran was optioned back to Triple-A after a one-game appearance in the Show. Duran tripled and walked as part of a 1-for-4 performance in Boston’s 4-2 loss to the White Sox on Friday night.