Almost two years to the day since his last MLB game, Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale made his triumphant return from Tommy John surgery on Saturday, holding the AL East rival Orioles to solo home runs by Austin Hays and Trey Mancini in five innings at Fenway Park. He struck out eight batters and walked none on 89 pitches.
Here is Sale's first strikeout in his first start back from Tommy John surgery:
Sale's fastball averaged a healthy 93.3 mph Saturday, right in line with his 93.4 mph average fastball in 2019, his last season prior to Tommy John surgery. It's possible (if not likely) there was some first start back adrenaline in play Saturday, but either way, it's good news. Sale topped out at 96 mph against the Orioles.
The biggest concern following Tommy John surgery is not velocity, however. It's control. Strike-throwing ability is usually the last thing to return post-elbow reconstruction, and, on Saturday, Sale threw 60 of 89 pitches for strikes, or 67.4 percent. Between that and the velocity, there were positive signs abound.
Going into Saturday's game the Red Sox were 12-15 since the All-Star break and 4-10 since the trade deadline. Their starters had pitched to a 5.20 ERA in the second half and both Martin Perez and Garrett Richards were recently demoted to the bullpen. The road back from Tommy John surgery can be bumpy, but Sale is returning not a moment too soon for Boston.
Sale made his last MLB appearance on Aug. 13, 2019. He dealt with a nagging elbow issue throughout that season and attempted to rehab the injury, but eventually his ulnar collateral ligament gave out, necessitating Tommy John surgery last spring training. In five minor league rehab starts this year, Sale struck out 35 and allowed three runs in 20 innings.
This is the second year of the five-year, $129.5 million extension the Red Sox gave Sale in March 2019. He is owed $85 million from 2022-24 and Red Sox manager Alex Cora recently admitted the team brought Sale along slowly during his rehab because he is signed long-term, and they didn't want to risk a setback.
Sale, 32, owns a 3.05 ERA with more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings since becoming a full-time starter in 2012. He finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting every year from 2013-18.