By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Chris Sale continues to slowly but steadily make progress toward returning to a big league mound.
The latest step for the Red Sox' ace came Wednesday afternoon, when he threw live batting practice at Fenway Park. Sale's performance on the mound drew strong reviews from the Red Sox, including Christian Arroyo, who had to step in against the lefty as part of his own rehab effort.
Obviously, a live BP session doesn't mean Sale will be joining the Red Sox' rotation in the next couple of weeks. But manager Alex Cora couldn't hold back his excitement when asked about how Sale looked.
"What we saw today was eye-opening," Cora said. "Good slider, good changeup, 94-95 velocity."
For Cora, it was Sale's ability to locate pitches that stood out the most.
"The command of the pitches, that's something that I didn't expect," Cora said. "He was able to throw fastballs inside, fastballs arm-side open away to put people away. The changeup was good, the slider was good. And that's something that throughout the process I do believe that that's kind of like the last thing you get, right? The changeup and command. And for him to be dotting pitches already, it's a great sign."
The 32-year-old lefty underwent Tommy John surgery in March of 2020. While there's no set blueprint for pitchers returning from the surgery, the Red Sox have been cautious and patient with Sale. With the Red Sox performing perhaps a bit better than expected -- they have the best record in the American League at 50-31 -- the integration of Sale into the rotation has become a move that can and should have some major playoff implications. That type of addition, as you might imagine, has Cora rather excited.
"Whenever he comes, obviously it's like I said before, nobody can trade for Chris Sale. We can add Chris Sale to the equation," Cora said. "There's a guy that, he's looking forward to contribute, he's in a great frame of mind. Physically, he looks tremendous."
Cora added: "We just gotta be patient, but he already is making an impact in the clubhouse, just his mere presence. His knowledge, his communication with the other guys, it's helping. So I know he's dying [to pitch], he's looking forward to contribute on the field. But so far he's made an impact already on this club."
Despite the AL's best record, the Red Sox' rotation hasn't been great. Collectively they have a 4.57 ERA, putting them ninth in the AL. They have pitched the fourth-most innings among AL starters, but opponents are hitting .273 against them -- the third highest opponent batting average among all AL rotations.
Of course, having the second-most potent offense in the majors and one of the best bullpens in baseball helps to cover up some of those inefficiencies. But the addition of a fully healthy Sale could provide significant aid to a team that is now positioned to go on a run toward October.
As for the next step for sale, Cora said that the lefty will go to Fort Myers to throw another two-inning live BP session while the Red Sox are on the West Coast. After that, if all goes well, Sale will begin his rehab assignment in the minors. While Cora didn't give any specific dates, that plan seems to have Sale returning to the majors perhaps in early August in a best-case scenario.
"It's not guaranteed, obviously, but it's trending that way. We'll see how he feels [Thursday]," Cora said of Sale taking the next step next week in Florida. "I always believe, I've always said that the most important thing about this whole process is the next day, or the days in between live BPs or bullpens and all that. But I saw him walking by, I talked to him out there, he feels good about where he's at, how he went about it, so we'll see what it brings."
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