John Danks exited the White Sox 8-2 win over Detroit Wednesday night with a lower ERA than Justin Verlander.
And that's less a testament to Verlander's struggles than it is a representation of how good Danks has been over his last four starts.
The White Sox left-hander has a 1.53 ERA in his last four outings, scattering five runs on 19 hits with six walks and 17 strikeouts over 29 2/3 innings. On Wednesday, Danks threw seven innings of two-run ball against the first-place Tigers, allowing six hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
Prior to this four-start turnaround, Danks' ERA ballooned to 5.64. It's now at 4.17, compared to Verlander's 4.61 mark.
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"I'm not going to rest on my laurels, I'm going to get ready for my next start," Danks said. "I've been humbled in this game before, so I'm going to try to keep from doing that again."
Danks' solid stretch can be traced back to better success with his changeup, his bread-and-butter pitch over the course of his eight-year major league career.
In his first nine starts — in which he had that 5.64 ERA — Danks threw his changeup for strikes 64 percent of the time, and opposing batters swung at it 52 percent of the time. In his last four starts, he's throwing the changeup for more strikes (69 percent) and getting more swings on it (59 percent).
But it's not necessarily that Danks is throwing his changeup better — the left-hander said the pitch feels about the same to him — it's that his other offerings have sharpened, allowing the changeup to generate more weak contact and whiffs.
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"He’s been able to spot his fastball inside and getting guys to chase that changeup fading away," manager Robin Ventura said. "That’s always been his pitch and to be able to have that back and have the feel of it has really been a difference for him."
Danks' fastball averaged about 87 miles per hour in his first nine starts, but has had more life on it in his last four. The left-hander averaged 88 miles per hour on that pitch in his three starts prior to Wednesday, and then averaged 89 miles per hour on his fastball against Detroit, according to BrooksBaseball.net.
He's throwing his cutter about a mile per hour harder, too, giving him better command in and off the plate both inside and outside.
"When he's coming at both sides of the plate, he's tough to hit," catcher Adrian Nieto said.
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Danks' velocity is still down from his pre-surgery levels, when his fastball averaged in the low 90's and his cutter in the upper 80's. But Danks has felt like the action on his fastball and cutter has been better recently, keying the changeup and this run of success.
Four starts doesn't make a season, but the way Danks has thrown in the last few weeks is cause for encouragement for the White Sox. With the AL Central seemingly up for grabs, Danks' success — along with that of fellow lefties Jose Quintana and Chris Sale — appears imperative to whatever playoff chances the White Sox have.
"I feel like I'm in a good rhythm," Danks said. "I'm trying to ride the highs as long as I can."