Danks continues solid stretch as White Sox surge
Starter's stellar 6 1/3 innings backed by eight-run outburst
CHICAGO -- Meet the new John Danks, same as the old John Danks -- where it counts, at least.
It's been a long and difficult road for Danks, who had left shoulder surgery in August 2012, to once again feel like himself. He may be a different pitcher now than he was then -- his velocity is down and he relies more on his movement and offspeed pitches -- but over his last five starts, Danks looks like the Danks of 2008-10, the one that enticed the Sox to sign him to a handsome five-year contract extension in 2011.
Danks allowed just one earned run over 6 1/3 innings Tuesday, improving to 3-1 with a 1.51 ERA over his last five outings while helping the Sox snap a four-game losing streak. The lefty's strong outing, coupled with a pair of homers and key at-bats, propelled the Sox to an 8-2 victory over the Giants at U.S. Cellular Field.
"It's been a long, frustrating road to get back to here and certainly there's plenty to be worked on," Danks said. "But yeah, there were some days where you were having to fight doubt from creeping in. I think I'm beyond that."
Danks posted a sub-4.00 ERA and sub-1.30 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) in each of the 2008-10 seasons and looked like a future ace for the Sox. Then came a less effective 2011 season (4.33 ERA in 170 1/3 innings) and 2012, in which he made just nine starts, posted a 5.70 ERA and was ultimately shut down in August for the surgery.
He wasn't completely healthy in 2013, leading to a 4.75 ERA in 22 starts covering 138 1/3 innings. Now closing in on two years post-surgery, Danks is gaining confidence with each outing.
After allowing seven earned runs on 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings to the Astros on May 18, Danks worked diligently with pitching coach Don Cooper to correct nagging mechanical flaws by increasing the number of bullpen sessions between starts. Among other adjustments, Danks lowered his arm slot, and the impressive five-start stretch has followed.
"He has really gotten it together, from where he started early in the year, the frustrations he had, some mechanical stuff that you start with and then it becomes mental and all the physical stuff that comes with it," Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "He has pitched to where he's always giving us a chance right now. He becomes tough when he has the feel of the changeup like that and spotting his fastball. It just seems like he has a little more on it as far as spotting his fastball."
Danks had plenty of run support Tuesday. The Sox jumped on Giants starter Matt Cain by scoring all eight of their runs in innings three through five and put together several grinding at-bats that had eluded them during their four-game losing streak.
The White Sox tied the game at 2 in the third on Gordon Beckham's two-out, two-run homer to left. Beckham fell behind in the count, 0-2, worked it back full and fouled off two full-count pitches before connecting on the ninth pitch of the at-bat.
Another battling at-bat helped the Sox take the lead in the fourth. Base hits by Jose Abreu, Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo loaded the bases with one out. With two outs and two batters later, Tyler Flowers, who entered play 2-for-30 with 21 strikeouts in June, drew a six-pitch walk to force home a run.
Adam Eaton then legged out an infield hit that scored two runs. Eaton would have likely beaten the play regardless, but Brandon Crawford threw the ball away to score an unearned run that made it 5-2.
In the fifth, Adam Dunn's one-out RBI single scored Conor Gillaspie. Dunn took two close pitches to work the count full before stroking a base hit to center on the seventh pitch of the at-bat.
"We felt like we didn't have great at-bats over the weekend and just kind of gave away some outs," Beckham said. "So we just wanted to make sure we saw a few more pitches, and when we got a chance to make it hurt, we've got to make it hurt. We did that tonight, so definitely a good night."
Two batters after Dunn's run-scoring hit, Viciedo launched a two-out, two-run bomb to left that gave the Sox a commanding 8-2 lead. It was Viciedo's sixth homer of the year and first since May 26.
"He got off to a good start the first two innings. He looked real sharp," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Cain. "It seemed like he was on track ... then he just got derailed. His stuff flattened out, his slider flattened out and they took advantage of Matty being wild in the zone."
San Francisco did its only damage of the night in the first three innings. Hunter Pence's solo shot in the first gave the Giants a quick lead. The Giants added an unearned run in the third after Ramirez's one-out error, but didn't do much from there.
After Buster Posey's RBI single in the third, Danks retired 12 of the final 14 he faced.
Danks is under team control through 2016. Should he continue to pitch like he has over the past three-plus weeks and the Sox make it back to contention by then, that extension will start looking like a really good idea.
"I think I'm just confident now," Danks said. "You get on a nice little run, it's a lot more fun to go out and pitch. Certainly the adjustments we've made have helped and guys scoring runs have helped. I'm just going to continue to ride it."