Chris Sale, for the second season in a row, is dealing with an issue in his throwing elbow. However, the Red Sox ace will avoid Tommy John surgery -- at least for the time being -- as he attempts to recover from what the team diagnosed as a flexor strain. Sale got an MRI earlier this week after dealing with left elbow soreness in spring training, and the Red Sox sought multiple medical opinions, including one from Dr. James Andrews.

On Thursday, Sale told reporters that surgery remains a possibility at some point. "I can't tell you how it feels," Sale said during a press conference at Red Sox camp. "I can't tell you what the process is until I pick up a baseball for the first time. As of right now, I'm just spinning my wheels."

Barring further setback, Sale should begin throwing in about a week, at which point a potential timeline for his return should begin to take shape. "It's a gut punch," Sale said later. "It's a tough realization. But, I've said it time and time again, I've got no time to hang my head or sit in a corner and pout. I've got work to do and I've got an uphill battle to climb."

Sale, 30, also battled elbow issues in 2019 en route to a career-worst season where he went 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA. He experienced discomfort this year after his first live batting practice session of the spring. 

Sale, whose five-year, $145 million extension starts this season, was already expected to miss Opening Day after the start of his spring training was delayed due to pneumonia. The southpaw's elbow issue is a much greater concern. 

Tommy John surgery would've ended Sale's 2020 season before it began, but he could still miss weeks or months of the season. Here's a look at the Red Sox's rotation without him:

  1. Eduardo Rodriguez
  2. Nathan Eovaldi
  3. Martin Perez
  4. Ryan Weber
  5. Hector Velazquez

Needless to say, that doesn't look too sturdy for a team that won 108 games and the World Series just two seasons ago. 

SportsLine projects the Red Sox to go 88-74 this season, good for third place in the AL East but short of a playoff spot. That's with Sale. Their playoff odds currently sit at 37.4 percent. Losing Sale for the season would cost them 4.2 percent from that figure, SportsLine projects.