USA TODAY Sports
He's passed the first three tests in his return from shoulder surgery, but nobody will know if he's ready for at least another month.
John Danks had no problems throwing his first bullpen session after shoulder surgery. He reported no unusual pain the morning after. Check and check.
He took his third step on Sunday by throwing his second bullpen session, and the signs still remain positive:
"I think that’s a big sign that I was able to get out there and feel good again," Danks said. "That makes me feel a lot better about things. We’ll see how it feels in a couple days. Let’s get a batter in there, it will be fun."
For now, though, it’s all about being patient.
"That’s not one of my greatest attributes," Danks said. "It’s been a little tough for me. It’s been a long road. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s getting there. Things are moving along nicely, from what I can tell."
Danks may not consider a patience a virtue, but hopefully Don Cooper and Robin Ventura will instill it in him -- even if brute force is necessary. Then again, that assumes the brain trust has enough patience itself. The last two pitchers who rushed back from significant surgeries would have benefited from more careful handling, and it wasn't really their fault.
Jake Peavy's comeback from his lat-reattachment surgery was interrupted halfway through the spring schedule -- and ultimately delayed by six weeks -- thanks to his stubbornness and a lack of oversight. Not only did he try bulldogging his way through unusual soreness (which was tendinitis) for the sake of remaining on schedule, but he did so after a stomach bug had him firing out of both ends the days before. Herm Schneider advised against Peavy pitching in such a physically compromised state, but nobody heeded the warning. That knocked him off a potential course for Opening Day, and he didn't make his debut until May 11.
But even if Danks can make it to Opening Day, he isn't out of the woods. Go back to 2009, when Jose Contreras made a remarkable recovery from a ruptured Achilles. Always a champion at conditioning, Contreras showed up to Camelback Ranch 30 pounds lighter (he credited an all-fish diet), and moreover, he came ready to throw. He completed all scheduled throwing sessions (games included) with no physical limitations, and he had his fastball humming up to 94 mph at the end. The 5.82 ERA hinted at a lack of effectiveness, but the Sox weren't concerned with the stats. Against considerable odds, he broke camp with the club.
Then the regular season started, and Contreras faceplanted with an 0-5 record and an 8.19 ERA over his first six starts. His ankle didn't bother him, and his velocity wasn't the problem, either. The accelerated timetable just didn't account for forkball feel, and he couldn't get it tumbling properly in game situations. The Sox optioned him to Charlotte, and he accepted the assignment, which was basically extended spring training for him.
When he returned in June, he held the Tigers to one hit over eight shutout innings. In his next start, he threw another eight scoreless, although the Brewers touched him up for two hits. He resumed his uneven ways for the rest of the year, and at the end of the season, Ozzie Guillen said they rushed Contreras back too soon. Looking at the competition for the rotation spot -- Lance Broadway! Jeff Marquez! -- you can see why Guillen couldn't resist leaning on the veteran to start the season.
The temptation shouldn't be as strong for Ventura. Hopefully he'll keep Santiago stretched out until they're confident Danks can stand up to major-league hitters every five days. If Santiago is needed elsewhere, Dylan Axelrod isn't the worst short-term fallback plan, either, so the Sox have options if their collective gut tells them to abide by a conservative course. Danks can get as antsy as he wants, but the buck stops with Ventura, Cooper and Schneider, and they shouldn't be afraid to put on the brakes.