Danks and Sale finding their places in the rotation
By James Fegan
Robin Ventura responded to Chris Sale’s worst outing of the spring by naming him the White Sox Opening Day starter, simultaneously reinforcing how much spring training results are allowed to displace reputations established in the regular season and getting himself out of any questions about whether Sale’s struggles raised doubts in one swoop.
Radar readings were the most reliable way to track to health-related dips in Sale’s effectiveness last season, and without them it’s hard to distinguish the difference between Sale’s angry expression of self-directed disgust and Sale’s angry expression of frustration at his lack of zip. In general, he didn’t seem to have the best snap on his slider and fade on his changeup, at least not consistently.
If nothing else, five years guaranteed of Sale buys the freedom to watch him get torn apart on a Saturday right alongside fellow stud Jarrod Parker in a crazy offensive environment and know that there will be time to wonder if anything’s up with him later.
I hope that there’s enough in my tone for you all to understand I think all of these stories are non-stories unless explicitly stated otherwise, but I can never be sure.
For all intents and purposes, John Danks’s rehab process is going well. He hasn’t reported a setback, and is handling every increase in innings with aplomb and an unfortunate “I’m getting pulled in the fourth because I’m already at my pitch count, aren’t I?” smile.
As he was getting shelled Thursday by the Angels, Danks’ looked his best working the outside half of the plate with changeups to right-handers. They were a little high and didn’t look like wipeouts, but the results of the deception were positive. An outside changeup to strike out Mark Trumbo prevented his first inning from descending all the way into hell.
But attempts to work inside on the hands of right-handers–arguably more important to his game than even his theorized upon changeup–were perilous. Mike Trout hit a ball to South Korea on an attempt to come inside to lead off the game, and things didn’t get much better after that. The lack of command was expected, but there’s not enough velocity to cover up mistakes in location. Danks used to be able to pepper in 93 mph darts when needed, but is presently struggling to hit 90 mph with regularity.
Tens of thousands of words of concern have been wasted on spring training velocity dips for healthy pitchers, but Danks’ shoulder surgery brings forth the concern that the zip is never coming back and he will be forced to adjust. That uncertainty puts the White Sox in a different position than if someone like Jake Peavy (an example with historical precedent) stunk up a preseason.
As much as Danks is needed to come in and earn his contract the next four years, he’s going to also need to prove that he’s likely to be worth pitching over a sixth starter by the first week of the season. Not much, just a flash that convinces Cooper he’s in a good place. But something more than a decent changeup that Mark Trumbo waives at.
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