GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The White Sox expect John Danks to be ready for the first week of the regular season, although it's not a guarantee he will be.
Danks has only thrown 7 2/3 innings over three Cactus League starts, his first outings since undergoing shoulder surgery last August. His velocity and command aren't back to normal yet, although as pitching coach Don Cooper was quick to remind, Danks hasn't pitched much in the last 10 months.
Still, the possibility exists Danks won't begin the 2013 season -- his first earning $14.25 million, his annual salary through 2016 -- in the White Sox rotation.
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"John is aware if he’s ready, he’s going to be with us. If he’s not, we’ll give him more time," Cooper said. "It’s not something we are going to rush or force feed. We can’t say, ‘Hey, we need you to throw harder.’ We have no control over that. All we have control over is going out there and having our sidelines and going out in the game. Heck, he threw (61) pitches yesterday so that’s a plus in itself. He’s climbing."
Hector Santiago or Dylan Axelrod would be lined up to fill in for Danks if he can't go in early April, and a pair of early off-days could help push Danks' first scheduled start back. The latter is a possibility the White Sox have yet to discuss, while Cooper said the Sox have prepared Santiago and Axelrod for the chance they're needed in the first few weeks of the season.
"It’s going to be, do we have enough time to get it all together for him to make his first start?" Cooper said. "That’s what we are kind of watching. Nobody knows the answer to that. But there are positives there for sure."
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Tyler Flowers caught Danks Thursday against the Angels, in which the left-hander allowed six runs on seven hits in 3 1/3 innings. Danks' fastball velocity sat in the upper 80's, only a few ticks off his career average. Flowers didn't notice a difference, though, in the way he called the game or Danks pitched.
"There's definitely no hesitation on my part or his to throw inside on guys, throw away, elevate, anything like that," Flowers said. "There's definitely enough there to work with, if there is less. The big thing right now is getting command of a couple pitches."
Both Danks and Cooper said Thursday's outing is a step in the right direction, albeit a small one. But with Opening Day in just over two weeks, at some point the White Sox -- and Danks -- want to see the results improve.
"So we’ve got 2-3 starts left that match up to where, yeah, if he can make all those pitches and stay out there long enough, you know what? Listen, he’s frustrated by the results but let’s face it, as we go, we’d like to see more results," Cooper explained. "But, dot, dot, dot, this is a guy that’s working to come back. And after surgery, somebody was digging in his arm, for crying out loud. But listen, we got time left and we’ll see.”
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With less than three weeks until the beginning of the season, Danks doesn't have a ton of time to get to the point of being ready. The goal for Cooper is to get Danks to the point where he can throw six innings with some regularity -- he'll try to throw five innings in his next spring start.
Regardless, Cooper's confident the White Sox $60 million investment will be ready to go when his first turn in the team's rotation comes.
"There’s progress there," Cooper said. "Are we going to have enough time? Yeah, I think we have enough time if everything really works out well the rest of the time."