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Danks displays promise in debut

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John Danks held the Twins' Piranhas in check during his first major league start. It was the big fish -- the Sharks -- that bit him in the deciding 4th inning.

Danks, who told anyone and everyone that he wasn't nervous entering his first big league outing, looked just the opposite during his first two innings of work. He needed almost 50 pitches to get through the first six outs, relying on almost entirely fastballs because he... 1) couldn't get ahead of hitters, and 2) couldn't get any of his secondary pitches over the plate for strikes.

I don't know what happened in the dugout between the second and third innings, but Danks looked like an entirely different pitcher when he took the mound in the third. He was pounding the strike zone, mixing his pitches, and missing bats. He looked like a big league pitcher instead of the scared rookie we saw in the game's first hour.

Even in the fourth inning, when he got tagged for three runs, he was pitching better than in the early innings, even if the results didn't show it. He got ahead of both Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer before allowing 2-strike singles; Mauer on an belt-high, inside fastball one pitch after he stared at a wicked curve for strike 2, and Cuddyer on a changeup that didn't change enough and was a little up. He then tried to sneak an up-and-in fastball by Justin Morneau, but it was neither up-nor-in enough. And that's all the offense Johan and the Twins would need.

The most impressive thing about Danks was the way he recovered from the big inning. He could have reverted to the scared rookie, afraid to throw strikes to big league hitters, but he seemed to get mad and really found his rhythm. His pitching line for the rest of the outing looked like this, including strikeouts of Morneau, Mauer, Torii Hunter, and Jason Bartlett:

IP BF H K BB Pitches 3.0 10 1 4 0 33
It's only one start, but I exited this game feeling better about Danks than I have any "rookie" Sox starter since Mark Buehrle, who only had one bullpen session under his belt when he pitched 7 innings of 2-run ball against the Twins on my 21st Birthday.
* * * * *

Johan Santana continued his complete dominance of the White Sox. And this time he did it without throwing a single slider -- I know I didn't see any -- and below-normal velocity on his fastball. You can spin that one of two ways; 1) Johan is the best pitcher in baseball, and he can make a good team look foolish without his best fastball, and without using his slider at all. 2) The White Sox have to find a new plan of attack against Johan. It's a little bit of both, but since #2 is the only thing the Sox can control, it's what I'll focus on here.

It's long been my belief that against Santana, you just have to accept that you're going to look stupid sometimes. He doesn't give up a lot of hits, or many free passes, and his lone weakness is the longball. With Santana's fastball-changeup combo, you've just got to pick one and look to hit it hard. Let him have his strikeouts, we just need to run into a couple to make him pay.

* * * * *

After two series:

  • David Aardsma leads the Sox in strikeouts
  • Nick Masset leads the staff in innings pitched
  • Juan Uribe leads the team in HR and OPS
  • Mark Buehrle and Jose Contreras have pitched 2.1 innings combined in 2 starts
  • 4 Sox regulars (Pierzynski, Iguchi, Thome, and Dye) have averages under .150
And yet the Sox exit the first week of play with a 2-3 record. Not great, but if I had quoted you those stats last week, you'd wonder if we had a victory at all. (That was almost optimism. Almost.)