Danks is a major part of White Sox’ resurgence
CHICAGO — John Danks carefully worked his way through the stack of envelopes, pulling his baseball card out over and over again, scribbling his name and meticulously preparing the memento for the return trip.
After the emerging pitcher from Round Rock made it though the pile, he handed the mound of mail to a White Sox clubhouse attendant, still not completely comfortable with the whole process.
“It’s something that you still think about,” the affable Danks said. “I remember sending cards off as a kid, too, and to think that these people want my autograph is still pretty neat.”
Get used to it. There could be more on the way.
Chicago’s impressive run from the mediocre middle of the AL Central to the top of the division has been fueled by the resurgence of Danks and Gavin Floyd, two young starters who have turned it around after a rough beginning this year.
Their considerable talents were on full display this week, when the White Sox swept a four-game series against woeful Seattle. Danks threw eight crisp innings in a 6-1 victory over Felix Hernandez on Monday and Floyd followed with seven innings of five-hit ball in an 11-0 win.
With Danks, Floyd and ace Mark Buehrle piling up quality starts, Chicago was 33-11 in its last 44 games heading into this weekend’s series against Oakland, including a 25-5 run heading into the AllStar break. The rotation got even stronger Friday when the White Sox acquired Edwin Jackson from Arizona.
Danks is 7-2 with a 2.83 ERA in his last nine starts, improving to 11-7 on the year. Floyd is 4-2 with a sparkling 1.04 ERA in 10 games since an awful outing against Texas, when he lasted just 22⁄ innings and fell to 2-6 with a 6.64 ERA.
Manager Ozzie Guillen said there’s a simple reason for each pitcher’s recent success.
“Strikes. When you throw strikes early in the count, when everything works for you and you make all your pitches around the plate, you’ve got a chance,” he said. “You see a lot of 3-2 changeups, a lot of 3-2 cutters, behind in the count off-speed.
“When you do that, you will have success. Besides that, I don’t care what kind of arm you have. If you don’t throw a strike, you’re going to get whipped.”
The 25-year-old Danks grew up rooting for the Astros and Rangers, whichever team was on TV that day. When the White Sox won the 2005 World Series, he was pulling for Houston.
Texas selected Danks with the ninth overall pick in the 2003 draft and traded him to the White Sox in December 2006 in a five-player deal that sent Brandon McCarthy to Texas. Danks made his major league debut the next year, going 6-13 in 26 starts.
He’s been a steady contributor ever since, winning 12 games in 2008 and 13 last season, but now he seems poised for more.
“I think I might be a little more aggressive now than I was even a couple years ago, but I think it’s just quick innings, making them hit the ball early in the count and having guys make plays behind you,” he said.
One big difference from past years: Danks is keeping the ball in the park. He has allowed just seven homers after yielding 28 in 2009.
With Detroit and Minnesota still looking for consistency out of their rotations, Danks and Floyd could be the key to Chicago’s hopes down the stretch and possibly into the postseason.
Danks still has a No. 50 Blackhawks jersey hanging in his locker at U.S. Cellular Field, a souvenir from watching their run to the Stanley Cup. Now, he’s looking for a similar end to his season.
“I hope,” he said with a grin. “I hope.”