Ballantini: Peavy is still 'all-in' for Opening Day

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Ballantini: Peavy is still 'all-in' for Opening Day

Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011
2:05 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

What impressed about Jake Peavys session with reporters on Tuesday wasnt that it was delayed a few minutes because hed literally just stepped off the mound after a workout, or that manager Ozzie Guillen felt compelled to interrupt Peavy by shouting, you better be ready for spring training or Im gonna get fired.

It was the no-bull, bullheaded hurlers unmitigated devotion to a White Sox team he felt hes let down in his short time in Chicago and pure drive he has to right a career thats fallen off-track in the American League, after a half-dozen dominant campaigns for the San Diego Padres.

This winters been miserable, Peavy said, acknowledging everything from his rehab from a season-ending latissimus dorsi tear on July 6, a recent illness of his fathers and unseasonably cold weather. But Ive been out there, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, playing catch. Im pushing it, while listening to my body. But I want to be ready by Opening Day. I think I can be.

Peavy created a stir at SoxFest in January (via general manager Ken Williams) by texting the GM with his typical enthusiasm, something the ace embarrassingly chuckled away when reminded on Tuesday.

I was just sending him an update, Peavy said. You know me. I was fired up.

Peavy also acknowledged after he was acquired by the Chisox at the 2009 trading deadline with an injured ankle, Williams wanted him to proceed with caution.

Kenny tried to put the brakes on me hard, to his credit, said the righthander. I pushed right through those brakes and said, Kenny, Im going good. Let me go, let me start.

Peavy spun three tantalizing games for the White Sox in September 2009, going 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA and .850 WHIP. But to hear him tell it, things were already running off the rails.

Winning those three games, it wasnt me, Peavy said. I got into some bad habits by favoring my ankle. I was trying too hard to come back, and it wasnt a good move on my part.

Peavy added that it took until video sessions at the end of April 2010 before he and pitching coach Don Cooper saw how badly his mechanics had fallen off.

The launching point for Peavys comeback is his recovery from a slow start in 2010. After correcting his mechanics, Peavy went 3-2 with a 1.75 ERA and .917 WHIP in five June starts, including a complete-game shutout at the Washington Nationals on June 19. Three starts later, on July 6, Peavy was lost for the season with his muscle tear.

I found myself, and had a strong month, Peavy said. That helps because I dont have to worry about finding my mechanics or arm slot again. Its something you build on, working from a positive place. If you have to get hurt, its better to get hurt when youre pitching well than poorly.

Peavy estimates himself at 60 to 70 percent but acknowledged that at his time of the offseason, no pitchers arm is at full strength.

I can tell my arm is not that strong, because its taking me longer than usual to get my arm strength back, he said. But even healthy you always hope that spring training pulls arm strength up.

The nine-year veteran reported with confidence that hed completed at the end of January his three-month throwing rehabilitation program, one that was constructed virtually out of thin air by White Sox staff, surgeons and doctors due to the uniqueness of Peavys injury. The pitchers Tuesday workout consisted of a half-hour of 120-foot long toss throwing at full strength, with no mental reluctance and a 40-pitch mix of fastballs and changeups off the mound. The ace planned on two more sessions off the mound prior to pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training on Feb. 17. Once in Glendale, Peavy will undergo an MRI and sit down with Cooper and others to plot his navigation through March.

Ill be the ringleader and try to push the envelope to make sure Im ready as soon as possible, Peavy said. Im sure they will play devils advocate. Only I know how Im feeling, but Im going to be reverent toward the coaches and staff I need to be reverent toward.

One difference that Peavy noted about rehabbing from the first arm injury hes ever suffered is that hes no longer quickly ready to pitch a la Mark Buehrle. But despite the longer pregame bullpen sessions and greater overall caution paid to the health of his arm, Peavy anticipates great success both for him and the entire five-man rotation in 2011.

Its a huge swing either way being ready or not on Opening Day, Peavy said. If Im healthy, it makes us a deeper and better team. I love all the starting pitchers we have, and all five of us, the team should be able to lean on when it needs to.

As for his potential rotation fill-in, rookie Chris Sale, Peavy ravedand apparently, so did a key White Sox nemesis.

I saw Joe Mauer this offseason down in Cabo, and he went on and on about the ability and stuff of Sale, Peavy said. Believe me, Im not trying to keep Chris out of the rotationbut him at the back end of our bullpen makes us stronger. But his presence means if I have to miss a turn or two, so be it.

Presumably slotting into the No. 5 spot in the rotation, Peavy would not have to take the mound until April 9 vs. the Tampa Bay Rays. Whether or not hes able to pitch in front of an adoring U.S. Cellular Field crowd a mere two months from now, Peavy is calmera bit calmer, at leastand more philosophical about his rebound, at the wise, old age of 29.

An injury like this makes you a stronger person, he said. I appreciate the game better than I ever have. Im going to be the guy Ozzie feels I can be. Im eager to show people that I have a lot of years left.

Short Stops

Peavy was giddy with this winters White Sox acquisitions, particularly Adam Dunn: We were too righthanded-dominant last year, with no power and balance in the batting order Ive faced Dunn many times, and he gets on base. I cant see 40 home runs not happening for Dunn in our ballpark.

On rookie Brent Morel: I hear Morel might be our third baseman this year. I loved the defense he played last season.

On Alexei Ramirezs defensive wizardry: I dont know how the voting goes for the Gold Glove, but I dont see many people in the AL better defensively.

Peavy said the Minnesota Twins are still the team to beat in the AL Central (weve got our work cut out for us) and that even with the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians rebuilding the AL Central is absolutely a great division.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

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