John Danks has been adamant that he will break camp as a member of the 25-man roster. As the lackluster results mount, some doubt is starting to enter the picture.
The Los Angeles Angels inflicted plenty of damage on Danks over 3⅓ innings, as he allowed six runs on seven hits and a walk while striking out two. He wasn't quite as bad as his line indicated -- Dayan Viciedo struggled with the high sky, turning a deep flyout into a ground-rule double, his last hit was an infield single, and Ramon Troncoso allowed both inherited runners to score.
On the other hand, given that he's still having problems hitting 90 mph with regularity, managing bad breaks becomes all the more important. Even though he tried to maintain his optimism after the game, it doesn't quite sound like he trusts his stuff, if he even knows what it'll be by Opening Day:
"Obviously, the velocity is not where it's going to be when it's all said and done," Danks said. "I have enough on it, if I can locate it a little better than I did today, I should be all right. I can't get away with quite as much as I was able to before surgery, but maybe it's good for me in the long run, learn how to pitch a little bit."
Danks is scheduled to make three more starts before the Sox must finalize their 25-man roster. Danks believes he'll join the rotation on opening day.
"I haven’t heard different or otherwise," Danks said. "I go back to what Dr. (Anthony) Romeo said that there’s nothing else I can really do. We are at the mercy of my shoulder. I’m going to go out there and keep doing what I’m doing. Hopefully we’ll start seeing some better results starting next time.
"Like I said, we are at the mercy of how everything progresses."
After today's game, this explains why he needs to "start seeing some better results":
But how did he look?
Well, Mike Trout greeted him with first-degree assault, clubbing a 1-1 changeup over the berm in left field as the very first batter of the game. It looked like he could've been in for a longer day, but he did end up having some moments to roll forward.
I tried keeping tallies of Danks' pitches. It was difficult, thanks to no radar gun, and a severe offset camera that was basically behind the right-handed hitters' backs. Plus, he bounced a couple of pitches. Still, here's what I got over his 61 pitches (39 strikes):
- 25 fastballs -- one swinging strike
- 24 cutters -- one swinging strike
- 11 changeups -- four swinging strikes
- One curve
His best sequence of the day was to Mark Trumbo, although it wasn't without flaw. After falling behind 2-0, he threw a fastball over the plate that Trumbo fouled straight back. On a 3-1 count, Trumbo chased a high changeup that would've been ball four. But then Danks doubled him up with a dandy, a prime-Danks changeup that tailed low and just off the plate as Trumbo swung early and over it for strike three.
That change was his most effective pitch. Although Trout clouted one, and Hank Conger roped a hanger down the line for an RBI double as Danks' penultimate batter of the afternoon, his good ones looked like they used to. It's a feel pitch, and it seems like he's close to getting it back in shape.
On the other hand, his bread-and-butter cutter is still lacking. Command was an issue -- Danks missed by an entire plate a few times -- and that's understandable. But I wouldn't underestimate the effect of missing zip. Danks doesn't possess Mark Buehrle-level finesse. He's more of a pounder, and being able to come in from the left side with two kinds of hard stuff is what makes him effective.
When he's missing a tick, it looks like last year. He suffers a heavier toll when he doesn't get in enough, and hitters are able to take the just-inside stuff more often than they used to. Lots of deeper counts result from it, and whether he wins more battles than he loses, it's not easy to watch. Last year, he lost more of them.
This isn't writing him off. He just needs to build up arm strength, and if it's not there by Opening Day, the Sox have the depth to delay him. Jake Peavy and Jose Contreras didn't have their full arsenal working after their major surgeries until May and June, respectively, so there shouldn't be any pressure for Danks to hit a deadline if he's physically unable to. Pitching in Charlotte is no proven MLB pitcher's idea of fun, but as he knows from 2011, neither is digging an early statistical hole.