Red Sox notebook: Chris Sale will return as a starter, per Alex Cora

It appears that Chris Sale will not be coming out of the bullpen when he returns for the Red Sox.

As the Red Sox left-hander continues his rehab and hopeful return to the Red Sox within the next month, it’s been suggested that he could come back in a bullpen role. Sale himself said Tuesday that he would be open to it. But manager Alex Cora threw cold water on the idea Wednesday, saying the $30 million pitcher will return as a starter.

“From my end, that’s the way I see it,” Cora said. “We’ve played this before with Nate (Eovaldi) in ’19. To put these guys in situations like that, it doesn’t make sense for the player, it doesn’t make sense for the team. We were very patient last year with Chris and when he came in, he contributed. Well, he did more than that, he was coming from surgery. Now, the arm isn’t the issue. It’s the other stuff, so I do believe from my end, and we’ve been talking about it, Chris Sale is a starter.”

Sale is inching closer to that return. On Monday, he faced live hitters for the first time since February, when he suffered a stress fracture in his right rib cage, and he’s scheduled for his next live BP of about 15-20 pitches on Thursday morning at Fenway. He’s expected to throw another one after that before going out on a rehab assignment.

Like last season, when he was returning from Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox don’t want to rush things. But they’re excited about his progress. He touched 96 mph with his fastball on Monday.

“We have to be patient,” Cora said. “I know we get excited, we love him around here, he loves to be with us, but in the end, it’s getting the best version of Chris Sale and I think last year, we did an amazing job of getting him ready. He was really good for us with that stuff. I think this year hopefully will be better because his arm is close to 100 percent.”

What’s the Story?

Since his torrid two-week stretch in mid-May – when he hit nine homers and had 25 RBI in 14 games – Trevor Story has cooled off. Since that stretch entering Wednesday, the second baseman was batting .183 with a .563 OPS, zero homers and four RBI in his previous 16 games.

BOSTON, MA – May 7: Boston Red Sox second baseman Trevor Story (10) hits his helmet on his head after the sox lose as the Red Sox take on the White Sox at Fenway on May 7, 2022 in BOSTON, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald)

Cora said some of his struggles have to do with his timing and contact point is ahead of pitches. He wants him to start dominating the strike zone again, which includes taking his walks.

“The only thing I told him yesterday, ‘We’re going to be OK, kid,’” Cora said. “That’s the only thing I told him. I saw him, he asked me something about what I see, I said, you’ll be OK. And he will be OK. Just a few things, we’ve seen it but we don’t want to overload him with information right now. We want the athlete, pretty similar to Jackie, he’s so athletic, just put yourself in a good position to hit and go for it.

“He’s in between right now as far as late on the fastball and out in front on the breaking ball. I think everything starts back-tracking the ball, controlling the zone, staying on pitches, hitting it to right-center and when that happens, then the hanging breaking balls, they go out of the ballpark.”

Duran back as Arroyo tests positive

Christian Arroyo – who was scratched just before first pitch on Monday night due to illness – tested positive for COVID-19. Jarren Duran was recalled for his third stint of the season, and started in center field as the leadoff hitter as he continues to try to prove himself at the big-league level.

“I don’t know how long he’s going to be here, but he’s leading off today, playing center field and we know he can contribute,” Cora said. “And he understands that. We’ve been very clear with him as far as like, what we expect out of him down there, and when he comes here, what we expect out of him. Just get on base and run. …

“I love when he’s running the bases. Hopefully he can do that, play good defense and contribute. He’s part of this, the thing is that right now, he’s in Triple-A, right? But whenever he comes here, he has the right attitude and he understands the whole situation.”

Odds & ends

Josh Taylor pitched to live hitters at Fenway on Wednesday as he made progress in his return from a back injury that’s kept him out all season. The left-handed reliever will throw another live BP on Saturday and a rehab assignment could await him next week.

Jonathan Arauz, who was designated for assignment last week, was claimed off waivers by the Orioles. The 2019 Rule 5 pick was a small contributor for the Red Sox over the last three seasons, batting .204 with a .600 OPS and adding solid infield defense. Phillips Valdez, who pitched the ninth in Tuesday’s win, was optioned to Triple-A to make room for Wednesday’s starting pitcher Josh Winckowski, who was making his second career start. …

James Paxton threw his second bullpen – about 15 pitches – as he continues his rehab from Tommy John. … Cora said Rob Refsnyder is banged up, but was available Tuesday. The outfielder has been hit by a few pitches and sacrificing his body on a pair of highlight-reel catches.

“He’s a good player,” Cora said.