CHICAGO – Nearly a year removed from shoulder surgery, White Sox left-hander John Danks is stuck in limbo between the pitcher he once was and the pitcher he is now.
Danks has shown glimpses of the pitcher the Sox signed to a five-year, $65 million contract extension before last season, but the consistency has been missing, which was on display in Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to the Tigers. A pitcher’s record, especially on a bad team like the Sox, isn’t necessarily indicative of his performance, however, Danks (2-8) too often puts the Sox in a hole.
Danks refused to blame the long layoff following his surgery for his sub-par season. Danks suffered his shoulder injury May 12, 2012 and did not make his 2013 season debut until May 24.
“I’m sure it has a little bit to do with it, but I’ve said all along, if I’m out there on the mound and in the game, I can give us a chance to win so I’m not going to use that as an excuse,” Danks said. “I‘m getting back to where I need to be and I’m not quite there, but I had enough to give us a chance to win.”
It hasn’t been all bad for Danks, however. He is finally showing signs he’s starting to find his old self after that season-ending shoulder surgery.
Danks’ fastball topped out at 92 mph against the Tigers – though only twice in 109 pitches – but more importantly, his fastball hovered around his career average of 90.1 mph. It’s a positive sign for Danks that his velocity has returned and it suggests his command will be the next area of his game to improve.
Despite the consistent velocity, the Tigers feasted on Danks’ fastball. Three of Detroit’s four run-scoring hits against Danks came off his fastball, including two of the three home runs.
“There’s a lot of pitches I’d like to have back,” Danks said. “It was a tough game, sort of a frustrating game, hard to make the ball do what I wanted to do and where I wanted it to be. This is a tough team to have a night like this.”
The Tigers aren’t the only team that has hurt Danks with home runs. Eleven of the last 12 runs Danks has allowed have come via a home run. Through 12 starts, Danks has surrendered 17 home runs and is set to easily surpass the second-most homers he allowed in a single season when he gave up 19 in 1701/3 innings in 2011 (27 starts). Danks set his career high in 2009 with 28 homers in 2001/3 innings (32 starts).
“Certainly I need to be better in the strike zone,” Danks said. “I’ve been burned too much, especially like I’ll get ahead in the count and I won’t be able to put them away. It’s something we’ll just have to keep working on.”
Danks has done a good job limiting walks this season. He’s given only nine free passes in 762/3 innings while his 6.13 strikeout to walk ratio is the best of his career.
But Danks’ overall performance this season should be raise red flags that he may not revert to the pitcher he was who warranted the length and costly contract extension. For an organization that needs to replenish its system with young talent, the Sox have a lot of money invested in Danks. He has two months to prove he can still be an arm they can rely on at the top of the rotation.
“I think every once in a while he’ll miss a spot and it becomes kind of in somebody’s wheelhouse,” manager Robin Ventura said. “I don’t think it’s a velocity thing or anything like that or he has to get stronger, he has to get sharper.”
• Meghan Montemurro covers the White Sox and Cubs for Shaw Media. Write to her at email@example.com. Read the Sox Insider and Inside the Cubs blogs at NWHerald.com and on Twitter @Sox_Insider and @InsideTheCubs.