He doesn’t have questions about his rotation pitching coach but Don Cooper sees room for improvement.
Whereas the White Sox are set with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana atop the rotation, the rest appears to be unsettled.
Less than a year after he had shoulder surgery, John Danks finished last season with a 4.75 ERA. Felipe Paulino, who Cooper believes has a good chance to be a starter, had elbow surgery in 2012 and shoulder surgery in September. And Erik Johnson, whom Cooper has penciled into the rotation, is expected to have ups and downs in his first full season in the majors.
“We’re always searching for the edge, how can each individual guy continue the process and get to be as good as he can be,” Cooper said. “That might be something as minute as first-pitch strikes. … It could be anything. We’re always throwing challenges out to each guy. This is where we need to get better work. Then we’re rolling up the sleeves and get together to try and improve those areas in hopes that we have the best seasons we’ve ever had out of this guy.”
One area the White Sox hope for improvement is in Danks’ velocity.
Now 17 months removed from shoulder surgery, the left-hander saw a drop of more than 2 1/ 2 miles-per-hour in velocity from 2010 to last season, according to fangraphs.com. While his walk ratio dropped by almost three percent from his career norm, Danks allowed 28 home runs in 138 1/ 3 innings. Were his velocity not to return to previous form, Danks would need improved command.
Paulino also is recovering from health issues though Cooper has been told they won’t hinder the right-hander this spring.
Paulino posted a 1.37 ERA in seven starts in 2012 before he needed elbow surgery.
He returned in 2013 and missed two months in the middle of the season before he made his final seven starts. Paulino also needed surgery in September to remove a cyst from his shoulder. But Cooper believes Paulino should be ready when pitchers and catchers report to camp on Feb. 15.
“I was told there’s no physical restrictions,” Cooper said. “I’ve talked to him, he feels good. I’ve seen some video. I’m forming some thoughts in my own mind. (A few weeks in we’ll talk) on, one, how get him back on track and healthy and two, what we might be able to put in or accentuate in his package to make him a better package and give him a chance to go out and give us six, seven, eight innings.”
Cooper said he sees a good future ahead for Johnson, who went 3-2 in five starts for the White Sox last September. But at the same time, Johnson, a second-round draft pick in 2011, will experience growing pains.
“I see a good arm,” Cooper said. “I see a young kid. … We’ve got to try and keep the downs to a minimum. We need more strikes, more consistency, because those are the things that go into making a big league pitcher. I’m not thinking one year, we’re thinking longer term for everybody. We always have.”