CHICAGO – Living out of a suitcase had become the norm for White Sox pitcher Dylan Axelrod.
Monthly trips to the airport in Chicago, Charlotte or Birmingham were a given and advance notice wasn’t a priority. The life of a “quadruple-A” player – someone who succeeds at Triple-A yet can’t crack the big league 25-man roster – is one Axelrod knows well.
Over the course of the 2012 season, the Sox called up or sent Axelrod to the minors seven times and his stints in the majors never lasted more than a month.
But Axelrod hopes that lifestyle is behind him. For the first time in his professional baseball career, Axelrod, 27, broke spring training with the team. He needed some help, earning a spot after left-hander John Danks was placed on the 15-day disabled list as he continues to work back from shoulder surgery, but Axelrod isn’t taking the opportunity for granted. His first start of the season, Saturday against the Seattle Mariners, pits him against three-time All-Star Felix Hernandez.
“It’s a special thing, kind of like the day before Christmas,” Axelrod said. “I’m excited and I’ve wanted to start. Being here to start the year, there’s a feeling of belonging. I had a good spring and this is my chance to seize an opportunity. I’m pretty excited about it.”
Axelrod, who has a 3-2 record and 4.78 ERA in 18 career appearances (10 starts), is the Sox’s No. 5 starter until further notice. While Danks and the $15.75 million he is owed this season are out of sight in extended spring training in Arizona, Axelrod has a rare opportunity to prove he no longer is a stopgap in the rotation.
When Danks signed his 5-year, $65 million extension last year, it was under the assumption he would become the Sox’s ace. Now Axelrod, making $493,000 this year, must fill the void.
“I’m not looking at it like I’m replacing [Danks],” Axelrod said. “I feel like I’m on this team and plan on pitching and doing as well as I can and staying up here. I can do some things that can work at this level. I feel like I belong.”
Axelrod was considered a long shot to make it to the majors when the San Diego Padres drafted him in the 30th round in 2007, and if he did get there, it wouldn’t be as a starting pitcher. Although Axelrod holds four pitches in his arsenal – fastball, slider, change up and curveball – no one would consider him an overpowering pitcher. Location and command are what make Axelrod so effective.
The Sox have other options ready, notably lefty Hector Santiago, in case Axelrod falters. However, with no timetable for Danks’ return, the Sox need Axelrod to provide stability in the rotation until Danks is ready. Axelrod understands he’s no Danks, but the Sox need the right-hander to step up and provide consistency in his starts.
“I see myself as a starting pitcher and I feel it’s the best role for me being in that role of having a routine knowing I’m going out there every five days,” Axelrod said. “Just preparing myself for to do that and be a reliable guy for this team.”