Danks eager to return

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Having a healthy John Danks in the rotation means everything to the White Sox.

The Sox were in first place in the AL Central last season for 117 days before fading in the last two weeks. A fully healthy rotation could have helped them go the distance.

Danks made only nine starts last season before undergoing season-ending surgery on his left shoulder Aug. 6. It was a major setback for the left-hander, who received a five-year, $65 million contract extension last offseason. He can’t wait to get going this year.

“I anticipate being ready,” Danks said Tuesday, the first official spring training day for pitchers and catchers. “Obviously, there is a lot of time between now and then. I feel good about things. We’ll see how it goes.”

The Opening Day starter will be left-hander Chris Sale or right-hander Jake Peavy, two All-Stars in 2012. If Danks is ready, he could be next followed by Gavin Floyd and Jose Quintana.

It’s a rotation general manager Rick Hahn said is good enough to keep the Sox in contention, even though his only significant offseason additions were infielder Jeff Keppinger and reliever Matt Lindstrom while the Tigers, Royals and Indians all look better on paper in the AL Central.

Hahn noted that Kansas City and Cleveland had room to improve.

“The division is going to be tough,” Hahn said. “I think obviously Cleveland has improved over the 68-win team they were last year. And Kansas City has improved over the 72-win team they were last year, as well. I think it’s going to be tough for any one team to run away with it in the Central this year. I think it’s going to be a fun summer.”

The 27-year-old Danks won 12, 13 and 15 games in the 2008 to 2010 seasons before going 8-12 in 2011 when a right oblique strain prevented him from topping 195 innings for the first time since 2007. He seems cautiously optimistic about having a healthy 2013.

“I [am] able to throw and able to do what they have asked me so far,” he said. “I’m where they told me to be at this point, so hopefully that’s good enough.”

Danks began throwing breaking pitches in the past few weeks with no issues. He threw a bullpen session Monday and will make his first “official” side session of camp Thursday.

“I got through everything and was able to throw everything they wanted me to,” Danks said.

Hahn’s major concern with Danks is reeling him in. There’s no need to rush him, especially with the extended spring training because of the World Baseball Classic.

“The biggest change with him is slowing him down, and when you have a guy coming back from injury, if you are going to have some sort of hurdle or obstacle, that’s a good one to have,” Hahn said. “It’s going to be on Coop (pitching coach Don Cooper) and (manager) Robin (Ventura) as we go forward to sort of make sure he’s not biting off more than he can chew. He feels strong, he looks great, he’s eager.”

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