Boston Red Sox

By Matt McCarthy, 985TheSportsHub.com

Chris Sale’s Tuesday night return from the disabled list was expected to be brief. It ended up being even quicker than we thought.

Sale tossed one scoreless inning for the Red Sox, opening a 7-2 win over Toronto, He threw 26 pitches in the frame, leading Manager Alex Cora to pull him and have him throw a bullpen session instead of pitching a second inning.

Sale’s appearance had a rehab start feel to it, which was entirely necessary for a pitcher who had previously thrown 68 pitches since the end of July. If it were any other time of year, the start likely would have come at Double-A Portland or Triple-A Pawtucket, but the Red Sox didn’t have that luxury. It’s mid-September, the minor league season is over, and in just over three weeks, the regular season will be over too.

It’s fair to wonder just how ready for the postseason Sale will be. Time is running out.

The Red Sox have 17 games left in the regular season, giving Sale only three outings at the most to ramp up his workload ahead of game one of the ALDS on October 5.

The lefty is scheduled to start against the Mets on Sunday, with the plan calling for three innings of work. The schedule would then line up for Sale to pitch sometime during the September 21-23 weekend series against the Indians, and then once more before the end of the season, likely against the Yankees the final weekend of September.

Between now and then, Sale needs to go from throwing one inning to being available for seven or eight on October 5, and then for seven or eight innings more five days later.

Is that possible in a three-start span?

Aug 12, 2018, Baltimore, MD: Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale throws a pitch in the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. (Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)

Aug 12, 2018, Baltimore, MD: Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale throws a pitch in the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. (Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports)

The Red Sox will likely be hesitant to push the lefty too hard in his next start, given that concerns remain about his shoulder’s ability to recover between outings. It is possible the team could get more aggressive in the final two starts of the build-up process if Sale’s shoulder responds well, but for now a conservative approach seems to be best.

If the plan calls for three innings for the Mets start, then it would seem that four innings would be the logical step against the Indians, followed by five innings in his final outing of the regular season. That would line Sale up for six innings of work as the playoffs begin.

That’s better than nothing, but with the status of the bullpen, it’s easy to imagine the Sox would prefer to get more out of their ace.

The timetable also gives the team little room for error. If Sale can’t make it through his planned workload for any reason (soreness, ineffectiveness, etc.), it means he won’t be on target for a full outing to start the playoffs.

Let there be no mistake: this last disabled list stint was not simply to rest Sale. If that were the case, he would have returned before now to begin the process of getting ready for October.

That process began Tuesday night. It’s not too late, but time is of the essence to get him back to full strength for the starts that truly matter.

The clock is ticking.

You can hear Matt McCarthy on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s own Hardcore Baseball podcast and on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.