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12/20/10 8:00 PM EST

Peavy's rehab session turns heads

CHICAGO -- Those White Sox fans still hoping for the perfect gift during this holiday season might have just received such a present from pitching coach Don Cooper.

Cooper spoke Monday to MLB.com about a Jake Peavy rehabilitation throwing session he witnessed in Chicago about two weeks ago. And the reviews of Peavy's showing provided by the White Sox pitching leader bordered on uplifting.

"With my eyes, he looked free and easy and was going through what he was doing pretty [darn] well," said Cooper, who was joined by White Sox head athletic trainer Herm Schneider at Peavy's workout. "I was immediately talking about how he looked looser, freer, easier and quicker.

"The problems he had were going on before he ended up ripping his muscle off. It was not a one-day thing. But in the words he used, 'I feel normal.'"

Peavy, who sustained a detached latissimus dorsi in his right shoulder on July 6, could be the most important piece for what has shaped up in the matter of two weeks as a World Series contender. The White Sox have a balanced offense with the addition of left-handed-hitting Adam Dunn to the middle of the order, and their bullpen received a significant upgrade through Jesse Crain's arrival.

John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Edwin Jackson and Mark Buehrle make up an elite quartet in the starting rotation. But Peavy's return from a detached latissimus dorsi muscle in his right shoulder, whether it's at the start of the 2011 regular season or as late as mid-May, holds ramifications reaching deeper than simply the White Sox ace's comeback.

Chris Sale, who will prepare as a starter during Spring Training, could slide into the White Sox closer's spot with a healthy Peavy in place. During a recent interview in the Sun-Times, Peavy related a conversation with Joe Mauer in which one of the game's best hitters spoke of how uncomfortable he felt facing Sale.

That particular endorsement speaks volumes for Sale's ability and potential. Cooper's endorsement of Peavy on Monday speaks volumes as to how the right-hander is on the right track to recovery.

"He did a heck of a job to be where he's at," said Cooper. "I really didn't think he would be right there. I thought it would be slower, but he hopped right into it and has a chance to be ready.

"Regardless, the next step is to build up strength and break through mental barriers common with this sort of injury. One is to let it go more and more, picking up the intensity of throws, and constantly climbing."

Even with Peavy's impressive progress, a Plan B has to be in place if he is not ready for Opening Day. Sale could start and then return to the bullpen, but Cooper doesn't believe that plan is best suited for Sale's development.

Money could be spent on a second-tier starter such as Ian Snell or Jeremy Bonderman, who could work in relief upon Peavy's return, but the 2011 payroll already stands at $108 million without factoring in expected raises for arbitration-eligible players such as Danks and Carlos Quentin. Or the White Sox could hand the spot-starter role to Tony Pena, relying then on young arms to pick up the bullpen slack or a veteran such as Brian Bruney from the non-roster invite list.

This specific hole to fill doesn't appear to be long-term. Not with Cooper's rave reviews of Peavy's recent work. And for those who believe in signs or positive omens, Cooper watched Peavy's impressive effort on the same December day Paul Konerko's return to the White Sox officially was announced.

"Just a very happy day for me," Cooper said. "He's still a ways away, but he's building up distance, strength and his amount of throws.

"Seeing [Peavy] look like he did on Dec. 5, it makes me think about how he's going to be on Jan. 5 and then Feb. 5 and then March 5 and then April 5. It was very encouraging."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Being Ozzie Guillen and follow him on twitter at @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.