One of the big themes for the Boston Red Sox in the 2021 season was surprising amounts of health in their starting rotation. It was a group that seemed like it was going to collectively spend a whole lot of time on the injured list, but they somehow managed to keep everyone healthy all year. Just a few days into camp, and we already have our first injured starting pitcher of the year, though it didn’t happen at camp. That would be Chris Sale, as Chaim Bloom announced Wednesday morning that the Red Sox ace has a stress fracture in his rib cage and will miss Opening Day. Bloom indicates that it will be “weeks, not days” until he can start throwing again.
It goes without saying that this is a very big deal for the Red Sox, who have more rotation depth than they’ve had in recent years but have major questions about the actual talent at the top of their rotation. Nathan Eovaldi pitched like an ace last season, but they need someone to step up behind him and, more than a year removed from Tommy John, Sale seemed like the best candidate. Now, Nick Pivetta or Rich Hill is probably the de facto number two, and Sale could be out for a significant amount of time.
Even if he starts throwing a week from now, which would seem wildly optimistic, he’d probably miss at least the first couple weeks of the season. My guess, especially considering that the Red Sox likely want to take it easy with Sale this year even before this injury, is that it will be at least a month into the season until he is fully built up, though some of that build up period could maybe come at the big league level in the form of shorter starts.
This does open up a clear path for one of Garrett Whitlock or Tanner Houck to take a spot in the Opening Day rotation. While both pitched out of the bullpen in the playoffs last year, Alex Cora indicated that they are each stretching out for a starter’s role right now, even if that’s not where they ultimately land. My guess is that it’ll be a true battle between which of them gets that final spot, though that’s also assuming no other injuries. Houck’s experience as a starter in the majors probably gives him a slight edge.