Danks making the most of opportunity
Left-hander making a push to be included on 25-man roster
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Jon Garland doesn't need to spend one solitary minute during Spring Training worrying about making the 25-man roster when the White Sox break camp at the end of March.
Not when he's tied for the Majors' highest victory total over the last two years at 36 and has established himself as one of the American League's most consistent starters over the past four or five years. John Danks, on the other hand, is a 21-year-old southpaw trying to force the White Sox hand into keeping him as the fifth starter or possibly even in the long relief role out of the bullpen.
During Friday's 4-2 loss to Arizona, though, it was Danks who looked more like the polished veteran over his three scoreless innings of relief, while Garland struggled with his location in his three innings. Manager Ozzie Guillen was extremely impressed by Danks' latest effort, impressed enough that he plans to talk with general manager Ken Williams and pitching coach Don Cooper Saturday morning as to where Danks exactly fits into the 2007 plans for their staff.
But Guillen certainly didn't seem concerned with Garland's continued struggles, despite the right-hander allowing four runs on eight hits, including five extra-base hits in the third inning alone. Garland pinpointed a tightness in his shoulder, the same sensation which he felt last year during the end of Spring Training and up through his first regular-season start of 2006, as a recurring problem this spring -- especially hampering his ability to go away to a right-handed hitter and inside to a left-handed hitter.
"Last year, somehow, it worked its way out," Garland said. "It's just a knot deep in there. It's just holding me back, but I'll continue to work through it and continue on with my business. I'll be right there."
"[Garland] has his own way to get ready for the season," Guillen added. "He's throwing better right now at this time than he was last year. Last year was a real struggle. It's something that's minor and hopefully it goes away quick enough. Basically, he had one bad inning. Besides that, he threw the ball well."
Danks cruised through three innings after Garland's start and basically had two bad hitters. He yielded a fourth-inning single and a sixth-inning single, but both runners were erased on double plays.
With the use of the double plays, Danks faced the minimum nine hitters. He didn't record a strikeout but he didn't walk any Arizona hitters, the latter standing out as a key trait for a relief role if Danks falls short for the fifth starter's bid, according to Guillen.
"He can be both because he throws strikes," said Guillen of Danks. "The stuff is there and we just have to make the decision how he's going to help us. This kid was amazing. He just came right after people and threw a lot of strikes. He's not afraid to go up there."
"It's a process and we have to work our way up," added Danks, who has yielded one run on five hits in six innings this spring, without issuing a free pass. "The results are there. I wasn't quite as sharp today as I'd have liked, but we got outs and that's all that matters."
As a sign of his true perfectionist nature, Danks was far from completely satisfied with his almost perfect three innings. He pointed to the two hits he allowed as curves that were supposed to bounce in the dirt, but he missed on location with both offerings.
Toby Hall wasn't quite as critical. The veteran catcher was behind the plate with Danks for the first time this spring and was impressed with the way he pitched to both sides of the plate and, most importantly, how Danks pitches inside with his fastball, inducing seven outs via the ground ball.
Mound presence also seems to be a key factor for Danks, in Hall's opinion.
"He's mature and has a good demeanor out there," Hall said. "He has an idea of what's going on. That helps. That's a start."
"I'm going to try to come in here and make a name for myself, kind of put the pressure on them," Danks added.
Friday's outing from Danks put the pressure on fellow fifth starter candidates Charlie Haeger and Gavin Floyd, despite Williams' ringing endorsement for Floyd to MLB.com. But Danks actually put all pitchers on notice with the way he has been attacking the strike zone.
Of course, a proven winner such as Garland doesn't need to worry. He simply needs to fight through his yearly battle of shoulder tightness -- a concern for Garland but certainly not a worry.
"I always tell the guys, 'Let me know if you have any injury problems before you go and perform,'" Guillen said. "So, I don't really worry about it."
"It only lasted last spring and right now," Garland added. "Besides that, I've never really -- I've always gone through a dead arm. That's going to happen, and also sometime during the season. Hopefully, it will be gone because I don't like it."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.