Danks lowers angle, maintains high expectations
Changes to mechanics designed to minimize HRs
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- John Danks has lowered his arm angle and lowered his leg kick upon pitch delivery. But his expectations for the 2015 season are riding high as Spring Training begins for the White Sox at Camelback Ranch.
Danks actually made these changes late last season, helping produce a 3.94 ERA over five September starts, after posting a 5.15 ERA in July and a 6.75 ERA in August. The southpaw also allowed just one home run over those 29 2/3 innings in September as part of his 25 yielded overall.
Prior to Saturday morning's workout, Danks explained the desired effect coming from these specific adjustments.
"The lower arm angle is intended to help me get some sink on the fastball, which keeps me down in the zone, gets me more ground balls," Danks said. "It keeps the ball in the ballpark, and you know, it's feeling great right now.
"I'm excited about it. It's only going to help and it feels like it's closer to my consistent arm angle.
"Our thought [on the lower leg kick] was to cut out as much movement, just because when I get my leg up high, it gives me a chance to fly open, get off balance, which hurts my command," Danks said. "And it flattens the ball out, which we both have seen isn't a good thing."
In spending much of the offseason in Nashville with his wife, Ashley Monroe, Danks was able to further work with pitching Don Cooper on refining this new approach. It's now about what Danks still has in his repertoire, which helped produce 20 quality starts and 193 2/3 innings in 2014, as opposed to a tick or two he's missing velocity-wise after arthroscopic shoulder surgery on his left shoulder in August 2012.
General manager Rick Hahn quipped that Cooper talked up his pitchers as if he had four Cy Young candidates on staff after Friday's opening bullpen sessions. The truth is Danks doesn't have to be a Cy Young candidate to help the White Sox achieve success.
Throwing 200 innings and keeping his team in games stands as the baseline goal for Danks, who has the longest White Sox tenure of any player on the active roster. Danks had a 3.06 ERA over his 11 victories in '14 and a 3.48 ERA in 10 no-decisions. His ERA skyrocketed to 7.97 during his 11 losses, with the arm angle and delivery changes employed to lessen these rough efforts.
"Just trying to kind of go about less is more for me a little bit," said Danks, who has a career 4.28 ERA over 213 career starts. "It's good. I'm very comfortable with it. It was something that came pretty quick, that came pretty easy. We were both kind of surprised and happy with that."
"He made a lot of good strides, and I felt like the second half, he was much more efficient being able to go deep into games. Walking less guys, attacking the zone, changing speeds," said White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers of Danks. "His command got a lot better in the second half. I knew he felt confident, too. Once you can trust that you feel healthy again, that eases your mind a lot where you can put your full attention on the things you need to put your full attention on."
Health is not a remote concern for Danks, not two full seasons removed from surgery. His sole focus becomes trying to help the back end of the rotation stand as strong as the front three.
"Where I sit right now, I understand there's three guys ahead of me and Hector [Noesi] and I are neck and neck. I could arguably be the No. 5, and I'm OK with that. That doesn't matter to me," Danks said. "I've never really been an ego guy. As long as I'm getting an opportunity to throw every fifth day, and if I'm getting that, it means I'm giving us a chance to win and eating innings which saves the bullpen and keeps them fresh for the situations when we need them the most.
"As many innings as I can eat, as many quality innings as I can eat, quality starts, giving us a chance to win, that's the name of the game for starting pitchers. The bar hasn't been lowered by any means."