Last spring, John Danks had quite a rough time keeping runs off the board. Through eight innings in 2014, teams can't figure out how to capitalize against him.
He threw five scoreless innings against the Rangers on Tuesday, although he benefited from some fortuitous defense to keep his ERA clean. Mitch Moreland was doubled off twice -- once on a bad read on a lineout to center, and another on a hit-and-run -- and Danks' day ended on a 6-4-3 double play off the mound. It's often better to be lucky than good, but when you're good, it's easier to be lucky.
Here's Danks talking about his start:
Where have I seen that freeze-frame before?
There are signs beyond the jaw that Danks is starting to feel like himself. He pointed to could-be-better command as an improvement area (he walked three batters), but that's almost a positive.
Danks never had pinpoint control -- before his shoulder surgery, his approach was always more hammer than chisel, and when a drop in velocity forced him to attempt a quick shift to Mark Buehrle Mode, he couldn't hang for long stretches. Hitters told him early and often last year that his misses were fat ones, and the first returns tell a different story this time around.
If he has more margin for error, then he can get back to relentless cutters:
"I feel like I have a better chance, certainly," Danks said. "Last year I would have to pulled a Houdini act on those and put some slow curveballs up there and tried to get some chases. I feel like I can go after guys a little more aggressively because I feel like I have better stuff. It’s a little sharper, got some movement on the fastball and the cutter’s sharp. That’s basically how I got out of that last inning."
Dan Hayes said Danks' fastball "sat between 90-91 mph and had an 'OK' cut-fastball per a scout’s report," both of which are improvements over last year. Robin Ventura backed the assessment:
"He's stronger. I think he throws a little harder," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of Danks. "Consistently he can do that. That just helps with his location being able to place it where he wants. That's going to be the biggest key. He has a better ability to do that than he has in probably the last year and a half."
It's interesting hearing the Sox frame the importance of the radar gun in different ways. Over the weekend, Don Cooper said, "I'm not looking velocity," and instead stressed keeping the ball down. A few days later, we have Ventura saying Danks is throwing harder, and that's going to help shape the rest of his approach.
From here, Ventura is more correct than Cooper, but Cooper probably has an interest in making sure Danks maintains mechanics and doesn't chase an extra tick at the expensive of elevating his offspeed stuff. The Venn diagram between the two overlaps at a sentiment like, "a normal-effort 90 mph is better than a max-effort 91 mph."
Speaking of arm strength
When the White Sox acquired Adam Eaton, there wasn't a consensus about his throwing arm. It had once been an asset, but a UCL tear in his elbow robbed him of his cannon, and it was unclear whether his elbow had returned to 100 percent, although Rick Hahn was optimistic.
He had a chance to let one fly after catching the line drive that mixed up Moreland:
That looks like it'll work.