Boston Red Sox lefty Chris Sale 'excited' to make long-awaited season debut vs. Tampa Bay Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox lefty Chris Sale is set to make his season debut on Tuesday when he starts against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

Sale has been out with a fracture in his right rib cage. He's made four minor league rehabilitation starts, allowing three earned runs in 11 1/3 innings and striking out 19.

The 33-year-old Sale is a seven-time All-Star and could be a big key to Boston's push for a playoff spot. His road back to the majors has been a start-and-stop trek for a while, but Red Sox manager Alex Cora seems enthused about where his ace is in the process. Cora also mentioned that if all goes well, Sale may return to the mound on Sunday, in a start against the New York Yankees before the All-Star Break.

"I believe we can be more aggressive now compared to last year," Cora said after Boston's 10-5 loss to the Rays in the series opener. "Obviously, (on Tuesday), probably 85 pitches. But I think we'll be more aggressive. The fact we're thinking about pitching him Sunday tells you a lot."

Sale, signed through 2024 on a five-year, $145 million deal, fractured his rib cage in spring training. He is 114-74 with a 3.03 ERA and 2,059 strikeouts over 321 big league appearances. But he has thrown just 42⅔ innings for the Red Sox since the end of the 2019 season.

Sale went 5-1 with a 3.16 ERA in nine starts in his return from Tommy John surgery last year. He missed the 2020 season.

"Obviously, last year we saw the difference and he wasn't even near where he's at now arm-wise," Cora said. "Now, it's far from the surgery, and he should be OK. I know he's excited."

Sale will face a familiar opponent in a familiar setting. A Florida native, Sale allowed five runs in just one inning of an ALDS game against the Rays here last year. Even though the Red Sox battled back to win that game, 14-6, chances are he hasn't forgotten that night.

"From my end, it makes sense that it's here," Cora said. "I still remember that first inning in the playoffs last year when he came down and I talked to him in that tunnel. He was beat. He was frustrated. For him to come here now, pitch here, with friends and family around, it should be good."

All-Star third baseman Rafael Devers also is likely to return for the Red Sox Tuesday after missing three starts because of back discomfort. He's hitting .327 with 19 home runs and 51 RBIs.

Two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, 4-5, 3.62 ERA this year for the Rays, will oppose Sale on the mound.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.