For the second time in his White Sox career, Jake Peavy will be making a long-awaited return to a major-league mound tonight. And even though he is in a far greater position to give the Sox a meaningful spark, he's under far less pressure to do so.
The last time Peavy rejoined the Sox after a rehab stint was in September of 2009, and by then, the season had already passed him by. The Sox had lost four of five to drop 6 1/2 games behind the Minnesota Twins, and Peavy only could make three starts before the end of the season. The math wasn't on his side.
However, he still had to show he was worth the considerable heap of prospects and even bigger price tag. Peavy had only injured his ankle, so his stuff shouldn't have been that far behind if he truly were 100 percent.
Nobody can say the same for this injury. I can still picture Peavy recoiling after releasing that 2-2 pitch to Mike Napoli, then turning to walk towards the dugout before anybody came out to see him. It wasn't quite Dave Dravecky, but it was the most he's-done pitching injury I'd ever seen in real time.
Considering the unprecedented nature of the injury and surgery, the wide range of ETAs (from spring training to never) and the "blips" and setbacks, it's a minor miracle that he's going to be able to pitch against the same team against which he broke himself just 10 months ago.
To me, this best sums up Peavy's future: A month ago, somebody asked me what Peavy's over-under was for innings pitched this season. I gave it some thought, and then some more ... and then some more ... and I still couldn't come up to anything resembling a solid number. I could rationalize anything between 35 (around six starts) and 90 (a good half-season).
In the end, I'd probably split the difference and say 55, which is what a half-armed Freddy Garcia was able to give the Sox while waiting for Peavy to return. That seems reasonable with a side of poetic.
The expectations are pretty low any way you look at it. Even though the Sox have four-plus months to dig out of the 10 1/2-game hole, Peavy might be under less scrutiny tonight than he will at any point over the rest of his career (relative to salary). Given the wide range of possibilities for a four-month period, who knows what will happen over two hours?
That said, that double-digit deficit will cut off the grace period rather quickly. It's great that Peavy can pitch, but if he's not able to be one of the Sox's five best starters after a couple of weeks, Ozzie Guillen will have to make a difficult call as to whether he should pitch. It's not the best time for a science experiment.
That decision can be put on the back burner at this moment. For one, nobody can safely say whether Peavy will be able to pitch at the end of this month. But more to the point, there should be a little time to acknowledge the mountain he climbed. Peavy has frustrated plenty of people by being far more talk than walk, but tonight will the culmination of a ton of hard work and determination. For at least one game, I'm willing to revert back to Little League standards and just hope nobody gets hurt.