With Opening Day eight days away, Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush provided updates on the state of his staff during a 20-minute Zoom call Wednesday. Included was a progress report on ace Chris Sale, who is on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery.

“He’s doing well. He’s throwing — not every day right now but on a throwing program, working towards getting on the mound,” said Bush. “I don’t know what the date is going to be. But he’s moving forward at a good pace right now.

“As with all Tommy John recoveries, there are ups and downs, various things along the way. He’s had his fair share already. But he’s very encouraged. I’m encouraged by what he’s doing lately.

“He’ll keep plugging away. He’s going to get back. I don’t know exactly what day, but he’s going to get back. He’s determined to. He’s going to figure it out and get his body back to where he wants to be. I’m excited for him. I’ll be thrilled when he does get back because it’s been a long road. He’s moving back at a good pace right now.”

Sale is closing in on the one-year anniversary of his surgery.

“Most Tommy Johns are 12-18 months [recovery]; some are even longer than that,” Bush said. “He’s going to get there. It’s a matter of being patient and continuing to check the boxes and move step by step.”

Though there are no guarantees Sale will pitch in 2021, that is the general expectation.

“I would hope so,” said Bush. “I don’t know exactly what time it’s going to be. I haven’t mapped it out that far ahead. The trainers probably have a better handle on that than I do. But we can map out Tommy John recovery, and it’s never going to follow the plan we lay out. But, yes, the goal is to get him back at some point this year. I don’t know what that’s going to look like or when, but that’s the goal right now.”

However, Bush echoed manager Alex Cora’s comments and doesn’t think there’s any need to worry about Rodriguez, who missed all of last season because of myocarditis.

“He was feeling better [Tuesday],” said Bush. “Spring Training is hit or miss. There are ups and downs for everybody. Fortunately, these games don’t count right now, so we have the flexibility to take guys out, leave them in a bit longer or shorter than we normally would. He wasn’t feeling great the other day. That’s part of Spring Training. He’s in a little bit different of a situation because he didn’t pitch at all last year.”

Richards hitting his stride
The biggest addition to the rotation is power righty Garrett Richards, who has thrived since struggling in his first two starts of Spring Training.

“He made some adjustments in his delivery,” said Bush. “It was the tempo or pace of his delivery that was off a little bit or lacking his first couple of starts. Again, nothing unusual early in camp. The first few times you’re facing hitters in a game situation can be bumpy sometimes. But he identified a couple of things that he was feeling. We saw the same things when we looked at video.

“And we did work in his side sessions between starts and kind of got his tempo going a little faster in his delivery and really allowed his arm and his delivery to sync up. He’s been throwing a ton of strikes lately, and he looked really good yesterday.”

Sawamura on ‘right path’
The pitcher who provides the biggest amount of unknown is righty reliever Hirokazu Sawamura, a rookie in the Major Leagues after pitching the past decade in Japan. While the Red Sox think Sawamura has the stuff to be a high-leverage reliever, Cora and Bush could ease him in during the early portion of the season.

“There are a lot of things he’s dealing with,” Bush said. “It’s a new place, a new league, new teammates, new culture, new baseball, different mound. There’s a lot of factors that come into play when international players come to the U.S. So we’re trying to encourage him just to get comfortable and go one step at a time.

“Each outing has been better than the previous one. He felt great the other day. He threw a lot more strikes. His fastball was really good. He threw strikes with his slider and his splitter. So, yeah, he’s going to have back-to-back appearances coming up soon. He’s built up well. He’s getting better each time, and he’s on the right path.”

Mata on mend
One of the regrets of Spring Training for the Red Sox is that they didn’t get much of a look at Bryan Mata, ranked by MLB Pipeline as their No. 5 prospect (and top pitching prospect). On March 3, Mata was diagnosed with a slight tear in his right UCL. The hope is that he can avoid Tommy John surgery.

“He’s in a rehab protocol right now,” said Bush. “But he’ll be back in a throwing program before too long and test it out and build from there. Certainly not on a mound, but he’s in here every day doing his rehab work and working back towards the throwing program.”

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