What's ahead for the new John Danks?

Brian Kersey

He's working with a diminished fastball, but it could be a good match for underwhelming opponents

For the people who are trying to understand how John Danks' post-surgery stuff is going to work out, drawing the Miami Marlins as the debut opponent is basically a Magic 8-ball saying, "ASK AGAIN LATER."

Danks looked good over his six innings and 76 pitches on Friday night, and much better than I expected in terms of command. But then Jake Peavy went out and pushed the Marlins around for a 117-pitch complete-game victory the next night, and you begin to realize the reason why they have scored 36 fewer runs than the next-worst team to play 48 games.

In fact, if you were running a smear campaign against Danks, first I'd ask why. Secondly, you could say that Danks allowed more runs over six innings (three) than the Marlins averaged per game entering Friday night (2.7). The Marlins had a field day against him!

But the quality of opponent doesn't matter for the short term. If the rotation holds -- not always a given, since Chris Sale's status will be determined after a bullpen session later today -- Danks' projectable schedule looks like this (rank in runs scored):

That's a good place to end, because the week of that June 25 start is crazy -- another two-game series against the Mets bookended by off days, followed by a straight doubleheader against Cleveland.

It's hard to draw up a better schedule on paper for a rehabbing pitcher. The A's season rank is the only one that's somewhat imposing, but it's also frontloaded -- they've scored just 66 runs in 21 games this May, the second-worst output in baseball for the month.

The Danks that showed up on Friday night looked like a useful pitcher -- his command was excellent, especially when it came to his changeup. He doesn't have a history of locating that well, but he hopes he was able to develop more precision in his craft during his recovery:

"Just focusing on stuff I hadn't focused on before mechanically," Danks said. "There were times where if I did it wrong, it hurt. My shoulder let me know I was doing it wrong. I think in the long run, I probably grew through this process.

"It was a sorry process. I don't want to do it again. But there's definitely things I can take from it."

Command will certainly be at a premium sooner or later, because when looking at his Pitch f/x data, the first robust set of radar-gun readings shows that his fastball was two or three ticks slower than usual. A lefty can still succeed on a reliable basis at 89-90, but it requires a different approach.

Until the shoulder problem popped up, the only sore spot with Danks' game was a tendency to get into protracted battles, which turned starts into grinds. Hitters couldn't square up his cutter, but they could foul it off enough to run up his pitch count. If they can track a pitch a fraction of a second longer, I'm not sure that's going to help either efficiency or effectiveness.

It would've been fascinating to see Danks take on Boston's far feistier lineup in his debut, because the Red Sox make pitchers sweat. But given the lackluster slate of opponent over the next month, perhaps a start against the Marlins will tell us just as much about what Danks needs to do.

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