John Danks just wants to be viewed as a regular pitcher, not someone who's under the microscope less than a year removed from shoulder surgery. Games like the one he threw Saturday afternoon will go a long way toward the left-hander's wish coming true.
Danks retired 21 consecutive batters and allowed one run in eight innings as the White Sox beat Oakland, 4-1, in front of 23,735 at U.S. Cellular Field. He knows there will be good and bad days as he approaches the one-year anniversary of his surgery -- and this was one of the good days.
"It's still a process. There will be days where it doesn't feel great," Danks said. "I'm fully prepared for that, but so far it feels great out there. Nothing's bothering me. I'm able to throw all four pitches. I'd like to be depended on to go 110-130 (pitches) like the rest of the guys are. I want to just be another pitcher on the team that's expected to get us in the seventh, eighth inning."
As Danks dueled with A's starter Tommy Milone -- who allowed one run in seven innings -- his curveball became an increasingly effective weapon. Danks threw 35 changeups, according to BrooksBaseball.net's pitch f/x tool, and needed another off-speed pitch to keep A's hitters from sitting on his change.
"I think I threw more curveballs today than I've thrown my whole career," Danks joked. "That's just the way it's going to be for a little while. You've got to find a pitch and ride it. Fastball command was kind of hit or miss, it was different inning by inning, and I've got to have something to get them off the changeup. And fortunately I was able to throw the curveball for strikes and kind of ride that for a bit."
That Danks retired 21 consecutive batters is even more impressive given how he struggled in the first inning.
He gave up a leadoff single to Coco Crisp and walked Josh Reddick before Josh Donaldson delivered an RBI single, which Alejandro De Aza misplayed to allow Reddick to reach third. But Danks got Jed Lowrie to roll over a changeup and into an inning-ending double play, and after he allowed a leadoff single in the second it was smooth sailing.
"Early on, I hate to say it this way, I feel fortunate to only give up one after the first couple," Danks said. "It was a struggle. It was a grind out there."
It took an eighth-inning outburst by the White Sox offense to net Danks his first win at U.S. Cellular Field since Sept. 24, 2011. With Milone out, Alex Rios delivered an RBI single off A's reliever Sean Doolittle, and Paul Konerko followed with a two-run homer on the next pitch.
"We’ve wasted enough good outings by our starters," Konerko said. "When a guy is coming back off an injury, there’s a little more meaning to try to get him a win because he’s been out for so long."
[WATCH: Konerko happy to get win for Danks]
For Danks, it's been a long road back to a major league mound and an even longer one to success. He hadn't lasted eight innings in a start since Aug. 27, 2011, and only needed 96 pitches to hit that mark Saturday.
There's an addendum to Danks' wish to be viewed as a normal pitcher, though: He also wants to be a stopper for the White Sox, the kind of guy who can be counted on to help pitch the team out of a slump. The White Sox entered the day with defeats in 10 of their last 11 games, so Danks certainly accomplished that goal Saturday.
"You’re looking at spring training and seeing where he’s at and this is more indicative of what you would want to see," manager Robin Ventura said. "He’s a competitor always but with the ability to throw and have location and keep guys off balance and have a feel for the game. When you’re not quite right, he doesn’t have as good of a feel for it as he does the last two starts. Just happy for him to be able to work that hard and get back and be able to go through a tough lineup like this."