FORT MYERS, Fla. -- And now for the non-cheating portion of Chris Sale's first press conference in six months, also known as the part that's most relevant to the team's chances in 2020 ...
While Sale's frank discussion of the Astros cheating scandal and the possibility that the Red Sox won't come out of the league's investigation unscathed will be sure to dominate headlines, Sale also spoke at length about his health and readiness to erase the disappointment of 2019.
The good news is that Sale believes his elbow is healthy. The bad news is that he contracted pneumonia two weeks ago and is still limited by the illness, which could jeopardize his availability on opening day.
"I got sick and tried to get over it for a couple of days, got a little bit worse, went back to the doctor and he was like, 'You've got pneumonia.' Well, that's inconvenient," Sale said. "What are you going to do? You deal with it and move on. Took some medicine, starting to move around a little bit, trying to get my stamina back up. I'm over the hump now. The worst of it's behind me, and now get back to doing baseball stuff."
Sale hasn't pitched since shutting it down last August. What he described as a "major injury" to his elbow required a second opinion from noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, who proscribed rest and a platelet rich plasma injection, much to Sale's relief.
After months of therapy and strengthening, Sale returned to the rubber this winter and ended up throwing six or seven times off a mound, by his estimation.
"I feel better than I have in a long time, actually," he said. "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's 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."
The misery Sale wasn't related to pain or uncertainty, but his absence.
"Just not throwing, not playing," he said. "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.
"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."
Manager Ron Roenicke would like his pitchers to make six starts this spring in order to avoid a repeat of last year's stumble out of the gates. Sale might already be too far behind to reach that threshold in time for the opener in Toronto on March 26.
"I hope not," he said. "Whatever's best, that's what we're going to do. I trust these guys, I trust the process we have. Over the next couple of weeks we're going to map out a throwing program. I'm getting off the mound tomorrow, and then we'll build up to live BPs from that, but taking basically two weeks off right before spring training is not ideal."
If there's a silver lining to Sale's down 2019, which saw him go a career-worst 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA, it's that he was able to reflect on what went wrong while he threw what he described as "batting practice" in too many of his starts.
"You learn a lot about yourself when you're just sitting around with nothing going on," Sale said, adding, "As bad as I was last year, I learned a lot, and that's going to help me moving forward."