MLB: Boston Red Sox at Cleveland Indians
David Richard / USA TODAY Sports

Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale is continuing his methodical recovery from the Tommy John procedure he underwent in March of 2020. Sale hasn't seen game action since August of 2019, but he could be in line to make his return to the Boston rotation at a point roughly two years later. 

The Sox have taken a conservative tack with Sale's return, which has led to occasional speculation that he wouldn't pitch at all for a second straight season. Sale, however, is operating under a different assumption. Alex Speier of the Boston Globe writes

Despite the process-centric view of his activities, however, Sale was unequivocal on the question of whether he expects to pitch in the big leagues this year.

"One hundred percent. I mean, unless something crazy happens," Sale said, pausing to search for a wooden object to rap with his knuckles. "I'll be there soon enough."

Sale's sense of optimism flowed from a recent successful 25-pitch bullpen session -- his first such session since having his UCL reconstructed. He's also not seemingly alone in said optimism. Via Jen McCaffrey of The Athletic, here's what Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush said about Sale's possible timeline for returning to game action: 

"Two months away, that's a reasonable guess at this point, without putting a date on it. Where he is right now is about where guys would be right before they show up in Fort Myers, which is on the mound, building up their bullpen strength. The next step when they show up in spring training is a couple of bullpens, live BP then games, so that's a reasonable assumption for where we are right now."

While nothing is firm, "two months away" would put Sale in line to rejoin the rotation around the middle of August -- i.e., just in time for the stretch drive. Obviously, setbacks or even a lack of momentum in the recovery process could alter that tentative timeline. 

Sale, now 32, is in the second year of a five-year, $145 million extension he signed with Boston. The Sox originally acquired Sale in a December 2016 trade with the White Sox. While recovery from Tommy John surgery offers no ironclad certainties, the working assumption is that Sale is still capable of pitching at a high level. In 2017 and 2018 -- his first two seasons and Boston before the elbow woes set in -- he pitched to a combined ERA of 2.56 with a sparkling K/BB ratio of 7.08. That's vintage Sale, the kind of hurler who contends for the Cy Young award on an annual basis. 

Even if you bake in some age-related decline, Sale figures to be a huge boon to the Red Sox rotation upon his return. As the Sox look like viable contenders in the AL East, said return could be boost for Boston over the final weeks of the regular season. Specifically, a semi-vintage Sale would do more for Boston than any plausible trade deadline addition could.