Frustrated Danks on early struggles: It sucks

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Frustrated Danks on early struggles: It sucks

John Danks is in the first year of a 65 million deal that's paying him to be the ace of the White Sox. He's under team control through 2016, so one bad month shouldn't cast a pall over the next five seasons.

But April has been cruel to Danks, who hasn't come close to pitching like the ace the White Sox expected. The lefty again struggled with control Friday night against Boston, walking four and allowing seven runs in 5 23 innings as the White Sox fell to the Red Sox 10-3 at a chilly U.S. Cellular Field.

"I'm not okay with it at all. I stole two wins and pitched like crap the other ones," a frustrated Danks said of his start to the season after the game. "That's way too inconsistent. That's the deal."

Danks was quick to dismiss the notion that the 40-degree temperatures and stiff winds played a part in his rough outing.

"The Red Sox had to play in it too. That's just an excuse," Danks said. "I'm not gonna use that. Daniel Bard pitched his ass off today in that weather. Part of the game. We're up here in Chicago, we know it's going to be cold early in the season, and more often than not that'll be advantage pitcher. And it sure as hell wasn't tonight.

"You gotta make pitches, you gotta do your job and I didn't do it. That's the part that stinks."

After not allowing a walk on Opening Day in Texas, Danks has issued 15 free passes in 24 13 innings over his last four starts. Equally as concerning, he's only struck out 16 and allowed four home runs. And his ERA has ballooned to 6.23.

"Walks have bit me in the ass all year to this point," Danks sighed. "It's definitely something we're going to have to focus on, that and keeping the ball in the ballpark. It's frustrating, it sucks. It sucks to go out there and get your hat handed to you. We're all competitive, we don't want that to happen, and what are you gonna do? Try to be ready for the next one."

Danks isn't a stranger to slow starts, though. Through the end of May last season, Danks had a 5.25 ERA with 25 walks, 46 strikeouts and 11 home runs allowed in 70 13 innings. Eventually, Danks turned things around -- he had a 3.69 ERA with 21 walks, 89 strikeouts and 8 home runs in 16 starts after Memorial Day.

But this season's struggles have been more pronounced. Danks' changeup hasn't been up to par, as he's either struggled throwing it for strikes, struggled commanding it in the zone or both. He's thrown plenty of good ones -- about one in every five has resulted in a swing and miss -- but the bad ones have hurt.

Without a good changeup, Danks is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, featuring only a fastball and cutter. And since he's not Mariano Rivera, he's had issues.

"It was hit or miss. When I was able to keep it down, and really try to stay on top of it, it was good," Danks said. "But, you know, just struggled with kind of everything. That's the frustrating part of it, I felt good, I felt like I had good enough stuff to give us a chance to win and didn't. Wasn't able to do it."

There were stretches where Danks looked like a 65 million pitcher Friday night. He retired 10 in a row in the middle innings, but that stretch of success was sandwiched between a bevy of walks and hits.

Danks knows he's only made five starts. There's plenty of time for him to turn things around, and he remains hopeful -- even if he doesn't quite know why he's run into this maddening malaise.

"It's just been inconsistent, just gotta keep working on it and -- I don't know," Danks shrugged. "We're going to keep working at it. I know I have it in me, and hopefully starting next outing we'll get on the right track."

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

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