DETROIT -- Chris Sale was placed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time in his career prior to Tuesday's game against the Tigers at Comerica Park with a flexor muscle strain in his left arm, as described by White Sox general manager Rick Hahn following Monday's 3-1 victory against Detroit.
The news sounded like the greatest possible relief for the team and Sale, who underwent an MRI on Monday night. The preliminary results showed that the ligament looks excellent.
"So, at this point, we figured we are much better off having him miss the start here in Detroit and miss the start against Tampa Bay and then re-evaluate," Hahn said. "Hopefully, the recovery from this goes as smoothly as the last couple of times we've dealt with this and he's able to take the ball when his 15 days are up.
"It's a big, big relief to Chris. Everything he described was consistent with the pain in terms of the location and the width of the location where he felt discomfort with what he's experienced before. At the same time, I think in large part due to how many incidents we've seen of ligament damage already this year, which is something that Chris referred to a couple of times when we talked today, it was very important for us to get this film.
"First, so we know what we are dealing with and confirm our suspicions," Hahn said. "And two, almost as importantly, that Chris can rest easy and know that he's structurally sound and it seems we are dealing with an issue we got through fairly well in the past."
Left-hander Charlie Leesman, recalled from Triple-A Charlotte, will replace Sale in the rotation on Tuesday, with right-hander Andre Rienzo getting the call on Wednesday. Hahn would not commit to anything beyond those two starts, just as he wouldn't guess as to how long Sale will be sidelined.
"There's certainly at this point no reason to believe it's going to linger beyond the 15 days," Hahn said. "We could have tried to push him back a few days and a decent chance he would have been able to take the ball maybe against Tampa Bay. Again, it's not worth it."
Sale has a 3-0 record with a 2.30 ERA in four starts this season. After throwing a career-high 127 pitches during his fourth start Thursday night at home against the Red Sox, during which Sale and Jon Lester carried no-hitters into the sixth, Sale admitted to MLB.com to being a little more sore than usual because of his pitch total and the high level of competition. But it was nothing out of the ordinary as of Friday.
When asked if the 127 pitches contributed to Sale's injury or even could be considered the cause, Hahn said that he's "not smart enough to know if it's the cause."
"There was certainly no indication at any point before that start or during that start that he was in the least bit of jeopardy of doing any damage to himself," Hahn said. "As you can tell from this decision here today, we are going to do everything in our power to protect him for the long term. This is about making sure we get out in front of any issues and make sure he's in the best position to have success and stay healthy for an extended career as opposed to worry about a start or two here or there.
"As for the cause, I don't know the cause. But I do know we are not going to mess around with this guy and send him out there if he doesn't feel 100 percent or is experiencing any soreness."
Monday's pain was in a similar area behind a 2012 problem, when the White Sox took Sale from the starting rotation and moved him into the closer's role. That move also happened in Detroit, and Sale didn't start from May 1-12 but made one relief appearance during that time.
Eventually Sale argued his way back into the rotation and finished his inaugural season as a starter with a 17-8 record and a 3.05 ERA over 192 innings. The White Sox gave him an extra day whenever they could over the course of 29 starts and had another break for him that season from July 3-15.
In '13, with Sale established and under contract for five years at $32.5 million, the White Sox loosened the tight control on him a little bit. Sale worked 214 1/3 innings over 30 starts, but was out of action from May 17 to June 2 because of a sore shoulder.
Having this break does not seem unusual for Sale. The White Sox and Sale are relieved to know the cause and hope he bounces back as quickly as he did in the two previous instances.
"We were dealing with that earlier today, trying to figure it out with Sale, but it's something we have dealt with before and you just don't want to take any chances," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "He got it figured out while the game was going on, so get him some rest and get him healthy.
"I was more concerned before the game. I knew he was going to get looked at," said John Danks, the winning pitcher Monday and one of Sale's close friends. "To hear that he's going to be OK and not miss too much time, that's great. It's big shoes to fill. He's one of the best pitchers in the game and it wouldn't do us any good to lose him. Fortunately, we're not going lose him for too much."