Chris Sale's elbow started hurting Monday, a day after he threw his first live batting practice session. Tuesday the Red Sox were forced to wait.
MRI images of the elbow have been sent to Dr. James Andrews, the same doctor who was tasked with examining another high-priced Red Sox starter, David Price, almost three years ago to the day.
"Yeah, like anytime something like this happens, it’s going to make you concerned," Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom told reporters."We also know, in the course of this building up, when you do hit these milestones, sometimes you can get sore. He hasn’t faced hitters in a long time. And I think to speculate too much would be irresponsible but needless to say everything has gone well to this point. This is our first bump in the road. Hopefully, it is just a bump in the road. But you can’t help but have some concern."
Considering Sale is coming off a season that was derailed by an issue to that same elbow -- necessitating his first visit to Dr. Andrews -- it is hard to imagine this is a simple "bump in the road" as Bloom is hoping. If nothing else, it highlights the fragility of a starting rotation that already was trying to piece together the final few spots while leaning on an unproven newcomer (Martin Perez) who got only two outs in his latest start against the Yankees.
"At a minimum, even if this is fairly benign, we know it’s going to set him back to some degree," Bloom added in his meeting with reporters in Tampa. "How long, I don’t know yet. Hopefully it is not a huge concern and doesn’t set him back too much. But we know it’s going to set him back some. So at a minimum, it means whatever solution we were looking at for the interim having those two open spots is going to be there a little longer.
"You obviously don’t want to have this type of set-back but I don’t think the answers to that have changed in we like a lot of the guys we have, most of the guys that were here before and some guys we brought in. As we get to know them better, I think there are things we’re learning about them, a lot of them are positives. Seeing how they respond to some of the messages the staff has for them, to see how they adapt in some cases to changes in repertoire and using their stuff a little bit differently. At the same time, even before this we were not going to stop looking around outside. It’s an area where even when we have five guys you know you can lean on, you’re still never satisfied with the depth."
So, let's look at Plan B:
Bryan Mata is a year away, which is too bad because we got to witness his dominant stuff when making a Grapefruit League start last year. But there is another top pitching prospect who could make a push for a rotation spot: Tanner Houck.
Houck, who was stretched out to three innings Sunday, has looked solid, particularly against righty hitters who he has befuddled with a wipe-out slider.
It's not a reach to suggest the Red Sox might want to give the 23-year-old former first-round pick a crack at something more than a chance to become an Opener, having seemingly found a pitch-mix he is comfortable with while performing well for both Triple-A Pawtucket (in a relief role) and in the Arizona Fall League.
It seems like a reach to fill two spots in the rotation with Openers, as the Red Sox were likely gearing up to do in what was supposed to be a two-start absence by Sale to start the season. Right now it would appear Ryan Weber and Brian Johnson are putting themselves in solid spots to help in this regard. But considering the uncertainty regarding how many innings Perez is going to give the Red Sox this approach would seem to be playing with fire.
Teams are always hesitant to give up any kind of starting pitching this time of year, prioritizing depth over all else. But perhaps the Sale situation pushes the rumored San Diego deal -- with Wil Myers and pitching prospect Cal Quantrill coming to Boston -- across the finish line.
The 25-year-old Quantrill is far from a no-doubter if inserted into the rotation, having totaled a 5.69 ERA in his first 18 big-league starts last season. But the former eighth-overall pick has shown the kind of upside the Red Sox are desperate for when it comes to young pitchers.
THE WILD CARD
The Red Sox feel relieving suits Darwinzon Hernandez just fine. The ability to simply go out and use two dominant pitches in one-inning bursts seems to scratch right where the big lefty itches. But this is also a guy who lived life as a starting pitcher until 2019. Other than integrating Herandez into the Opener mix, this doesn't seem like a risk worth taking.