The last time John Danks pitched for the White Sox was a little over a year ago, in May 19, 2012. He strung together 6.1 shutout innings in Wrigley Field against a fairly moribund Cubs offense. He somehow managed to strike out four batters despite only getting five swings-and-misses all afternoon. His exit after 83 pitches seemed odd, but it was just too good to see Danks get through an actual decent outing to worry about those details at the time.
The next day he woke up racked with shoulder pain and was placed on the disabled list. A little under three months later he had surgery.
It’s fairly fortunate for John Danks to be back on a major league roster at all. There’s a great deal of fear and uncertainty that accompanies pitchers recovering from shoulder surgeries and for good reason. The track record is bad and even a relative success like Danks has been made to deal with velocity loss, erratic control and unstable mastery of his stuff, all of which may yet keep him from returning to previous heights, or even sustaining an existence as a major league starter.
As Danks returns to the Sox on Friday against a Miami Marlins team averaging under three runs per game in National League play, there’s solid potential for more good results built on shaky foundations that will encourage more than it should. And I’d be very tempted to do backflips over a Danks quality start and the prospect of putting off having to rationalize just how hampered a post-surgery John Danks is going to be for another day.
The contract is certainly a factor in that desire. Not being Jerry Reinsdorf, the years are more concerning than the money he’s being paid. Danks is signed to be present through 2016 and it’d be preferable if he was able to spend that time pitching, helping and working to mediate the disappointment that he’ll never assume the role as the starting rotation’s figurehead that was mapped out for him, rather than stewing in it on the sidelines. Even a diminished Danks working to adjust to his new handicaps would be a better ending to his tenure with the club (now in its seventh year) than to exist as a pure albatross.
But another significant part of wanting to see Danks firmly reclaim a spot in the rotation and validate the organization’s confidence in him–or at least their public display of it, since I certainly trust them to see the issues we’re seeing–despite scant traces of his pre-surgery effectiveness, is simple nostalgia.
Danks and Gavin Floyd are the most clear vestiges of the White Sox moving on from their World Series hangover and trying to secure new, young talent. They were the young arms tasked with carrying the torch from one of the greatest starting rotations in franchise history and did a fine job for four years. While the team has obviously had limited success since 2005, demonstrating that it wasn’t Danks and Floyd’s fault is an uphill battle that will only get harder as they deal with dueling career-derailing injuries while the franchise sleds into a rebuild.
Of course, that’s too much to put on Danks’ surgically-repaired shoulder at this point. If expectations for him to helm the staff last year outstripped his capabilities to be a very good No. 3 starter, the reception for a Danks trying to overcome a likely reduction in his physical capabilities isn’t likely to be doused in gratitude.
It’s hard to know what to expect from Danks going forward. The walks and strikeout figures from minor league ball aren’t encouraging, the velocity reports can only boast to not be any worse than expected given the injury and it’s hard to know how much room for growth there is, or how much we can expect a pitcher who was never elite to refine his game around his newfound shortcomings.
So one nice beginning, a triumphant return where he can trot off the field to cheers for a half-decent outing and talk about building off his progress afterward, would be a good thing. Hopefully the Marlins are willing to oblige. They usually are.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan