For the third straight season, Chris Sale has put everybody through an early-season injury scare. It's getting to be a tradition, kind of like Gordon Beckham's "This is why I've turned the corner this time" speeches, but not nearly as charming.
Especially since this one involves a new wrinkle -- a stint on the disabled list due to a flexor muscle strain in his left arm.
The preliminary results of Sale's MRI showed that his elbow ligament is in working order, and that allowed Rick Hahn to put a positive spin on it:
"The preliminary read is that his ligament looks excellent," Hahn said. "We believe we are dealing with a flexor mass strain of the muscle of his left arm. Similar to what we dealt with coincidentally in Detroit two years ago as well as a little bit last year actually. So, at this point, we figured we are much better off having him miss the start here in Detroit and miss the start against Tampa Bay and then re-evaluate. Hopefully the recovery from this goes as smoothly as the last couple of times we’ve dealt with this and he’s able to take the ball when his 15 days are up."
You can pretty much run with this situation however your natural inclination pulls you. A potential dialogue:
Optimist: "Gavin Floyd had the same injury in August of 2012. He took a 15-day DL stint, then came back to be the White Sox' best pitcher in September."
Pessimist: "Floyd suffered a flexor muscle strain in his right elbow in April of 2013. An MRI turned up no ligament damage, but Floyd sought multiple opinions. It turned out the muscle was torn and his UCL was unstable, and he needed Tommy John surgery."
Optimist: "But in both cases, Floyd's DL stints were preceded by shortened outings with poor stuff and command. Sale struck out 10 Red Sox over seven innings, and his velocity was where it should be"
Pessimist: "Yeah, but Sale threw 127 pitches for some reason, including 25 in a stressful final inning. And this is the first time he's been on the DL."
Optimist: "Yeah, but if they're not contending and the bullpen is shaky, it makes sense to free up the roster spot to shuttle guys back and forth between Charlotte and Chicago."
Pessimist: "The bullpen's settling down, though. Andre Rienzo was that long-relief, fresh-arm security blanket, and he didn't have to pitch."
Optimist: "I dunno. At least the Sox aren't threatening to move him to the bullpen for good this time."
Pessimist: "Yup. Hope that means they're not just blowing smoke."
That's about the long and short of it. The next step is to hear from Sale, who was unavailable for comment on Monday, and make sure the official MRI results are consistent with the early returns. Assuming Sale echoes the party line, then we have less fun watching Charlie Leesman start for him on Tuesday, and Rienzo on Wednesday.
If you're curious, here's how the last two panic attacks unfolded:
May 17: Sale strikes out 12 Angels over 7⅔ scoreless inning, throwing 113 pitches in the process.
May 21: The day before Sale's next scheduled start, the White Sox scratch him due to a case of mild shoulder tendinitis. Sale wanted to pitch through it, but team doctors told him to take it easy.
May 28: Sale returns to the mound and pitches three innings before storms postpone a game against the Cubs. The reports and radar-gun readings are positive, and Sale pitches the rest of the season without a break.
May 1: Sale throws six innings of one-run ball, lifted after just 88 pitches. The Sox led 7-1 at the time, so it seemed like an opportunity to take the foot off the gas pedal in his first year as a starter.
May 4: The Sox suddenly announce that Sale will be moved back to the bullpen due to a "slightly tender elbow" in a terribly managed media frenzy.
May 8: Pissed Sale makes an appearance out of the bullpen. Don Cooper said it's possible Sale could return to the rotation.
May 11: Sale appeals directly to Kenny Williams, gets an MRI that comes back "clean and pristine," prompting Williams to announce that Sale is returning to the rotation.
May 12: Sale throws five bumpy innings and 103 pitches in a 5-0 loss to the Royals, but there's no doubt about his role the rest of the year.