When I first heard that an ace Red Sox lefthander was heading to see Dr. James Andrews, I assumed the absolute worse: Chris Sale’s left elbow had succumbed to the violent, herky-jerky motion that causes so many swings and misses, but appears to put tremendous stress on the elbow. The trade that depleted the once fertile Red Sox farm system all for naught.
Fortunately, Sale’s elbow was not in question. It was David Price’s elbow that was cause for concern following a two-inning simulated game. Fortunately, Price’s pain appears to be — as of now — muscular in nature, not structural.
Why did I assume it was Sale with the bum elbow? The whipping side-arm delivery combined with a slender frame is often cause for concern. The high-elbow, low shoulder mechanics that make Sale so effective puts tremendous stress on the elbow, which can cause a torn ligament, which leads to visits to Dr. Andrews’ office, which often leads to season-ending Tommy John surgery.
The White Sox were always aware of the warning signs, but never tampered with Sale’s unconventional pitching mechanics. White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper observed that most pitchers with pitching styles comparable to Sale stood more upright, causing the elbow to take the brunt of the stress. Sale comes down a bit lower with his entire body, putting added pressure on the legs while relieving stress from the elbow.
The White Sox projection has been on the money to date. Their former ace has landed on the disabled list only once in his seven-year career with a strained flexor muscle in his left arm. The injury came one start after throwing 127 pitches, coincidentally, against the Red Sox in 2014. An MRI revealed no ligament damage.
After sacrificing Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, two of baseball’s top prospects, among others to land Sale, the Red Sox have obviously bought into the White Sox prognosis. Deception is a key ingredient to Sale’s success, so the Red Sox have no plans to change Sale’s arm slot. He has proved to be durable throughout his career, so the Red Sox are willing to take a calculated risk.
As for Price, health has never been an issue and durability has always been a strength. A smooth, flawless pitching motion seems to put minimal stress on his elbow, but a heavy workload may be catching up to Price. The 31-year-old southpaw has logged 200+ inning in six of the last seven seasons. He has thrown 698 ⅔ innings over the past three seasons, more than any other pitcher in baseball and mind boggling considering bullpen use in today’s baseball. Perhaps an ailing arm has be been in the offing for the last few years, before he arrived in Boston.
The Red Sox are hopeful that Price’s elbow remains structurally sound. Hopeful that rest and medication to reduce the swelling are the cure with no long-lasting effects. Hopeful that he continues to be the workhorse that championship-driven teams crave. Hopeful that he is past the first-season in Boston jitters. In what was arguably Price’s worse season, he won 17 games while leading the league in strikeouts (230) and innings pitched (35). He played a key role in the Red Sox first place American League East finish.
The Red Sox are taking calculated risks on two left-handed aces who came to Boston at a high price in terms of money and future holdings. A calculated roll of the dice in what should prove to be a fascinating season.