GLENDALE, Ariz. — Of all the moves the White Sox made this offseason, maybe the best improvement to the team had nothing to do with trades or free agent signings, but with the health inside the shoulder of a certain $65 million left-handed pitcher.
“This year I feel like I’m 100-percent healthy,” John Danks declared on the day pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. “I’m back to where I want to be. Hopefully, we’re not talking about shoulder surgery anymore.”
Shoulder surgery or the 2013 season, which was awful for the White Sox and especially painful for Danks, who finished with a 4-14 record, gave up 28 homers in 22 starts and apparently felt like Charlie Brown on the mound, as he frequently got pounded by the opposition.
“I don’t know if that was pitching,” Danks said of his 2013 season. “That was kind of throw it and look out.”
After his operation in August 2012 which repaired a capsular tear in his pitching shoulder, Danks was expected to be fully recovered in time for spring training. Danks was fully recovered to pitch, but as he found out, he wasn’t ready to be the John Danks of old.
“Obviously, he wasn’t the same John Danks, and him being only 10 to 14 months post-op, it’s not a surprise the ball wasn’t coming out of his hand quite the way it had in the past,” said general manager Rick Hahn. “This was always going to be the litmus test, 18 months post-op, which is where he will be sitting on Opening Day or sometime in March.”
Now here in February, Danks can already tell the difference. What feels better?
“Name it. I’m just feeling stronger,” Danks said. “Not having to force things quite as much. The ball is coming out of my hand night and day better than it was last year. I feel good about things. I’m confident. I have high expectations for myself.”
In October, Danks married country music singer Ashley Monroe and moved to Nashville, which happens to be the offseason home of pitching coach Don Cooper. Danks and Cooper met a couple times and spoke about things they can build on from last season.
What’s most encouraging for Danks is that he feels like he’s got his stuff back, the same ammo that made him one of the top young pitchers in the game and compelled the White Sox to sign him to that 5-year, $65 million contract extension in 2011.
That’s money you give to an ace. Once upon a time, Danks was expected to be that guy for the White Sox. Now with Chris Sale thrust into the top role, Danks enters this season as a quiet and potentially lethal No. 3 starter behind Sale and Jose Quintana.
“Given our history with him, I don’t know if we view him as a sleeper,” Hahn said. “It’s more about a guy who went through a hardship and worked his tail off and now medically is to the point where he’s probably able to re-achieve his former status or at least in the best position to recapture what he was formerly capable of doing.”
What will the White Sox do in 2014? That’s a mystery. But with the bad vibes of 2013 completely vaporized somewhere in the ether, the clubhouse feels like someone wiped it clean with soap and bleach, and considering the team needs some fire, maybe there's some gasoline nearby just in case.
“We like the group that they’re putting together. We’re going to be fun,” Danks said. “It can’t be any worse than last year. We’re excited to get to work and right the ship.”