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John Danks' second post-surgery spring off to a better start

First outing is more successful and encouraging than any of his Cactus League performances in 2013

Rob Tringali

Jose Abreu's first home run in a White Sox uniform was one thing we couldn't see on Thursday.

Another elusive item from the split-squad doubleheader: John Danks' PITCHf/x readings. Sure, that's the same thing I wanted to see right away last year, but this time I might not be seeing them from between my fingers.

At least we can say Danks is off to a better start this time around. Daryl Van Schouwen gives us one approximation:

Danks allowed one hit and two walks and struck out two Mariners. He used all four of his pitches, touched 90-91 mph with his two-seam fastball and threw it "without humping it up there.’’

In other words, free and easy.

"I don’t know what the [velocity] numbers were, but I was able to change speeds with four pitches,’’ Danks said. "The curveball is always a tough pitch out here [in dry Arizona air]; I had trouble getting it over the plate. I was real pleased with the cutter, the fastball had some life on it and the changeup was where it’s always been.’’

Last year, the gun clocked Danks' inaugural fastballs between 85 and 89 mph, so the limited information is in his favor.

The results pointed to a difference, too. Last spring, Danks survived pretty hard contact in his first outing. He wasn't so lucky in the second ... or the third ... or even the fourth. Starting the season in Charlotte became inevitable with a game log like this:

Date Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA Pit Str
3/4 SF 2.0 2 1 1 0 0 1 4.50 35 27
3/9 ARI 2.1 7 4 3 2 2 1 8.31 56 32
3/14 LAA 3.1 7 6 6 1 2 1 11.74 61 39
3/19 CIN 3.1 11 10 10 2 0 2 16.36 82 52

11.0 27 21 20 5 4 5 16.36

Danks enjoyed more success in his 2014 debut than in any of his other spring outings. He threw three scoreless innings against the Mariners, allowing a hit and two walks while striking out two. Adam Dunn put Danks on the defensive early with an error, but he escaped a bases-loaded jam unscathed, and the last two innings were much smoother sailing.

Disregard the specifics of spring numbers, but Seattle's hitters didn't tell Danks his stuff was lacking. He produced some whiffs, five groundouts and two unremarkable flyouts.The cutter goes a long way in minimizing the quality of contact, and Danks said he liked the way it came out of his hand:

"We actually worked on throwing it to both sides of the plate, and that was effective," Danks said. "It was around the zone, had a sharp break on it. That's where I expected to be at this point. Keep on improving, but I'm really pleased with how it was so far."

As far as specific refinement with the cutter, Danks said it was about strengthening and "being able to get my arm where it needs to be, and have enough behind it to spin it right and make it move."

"Last year, I had trouble spinning it, and it was backing up on me and getting hit," Danks said. "This year, I'm able to drive the ball where I want, and that was proved being able to throw it to both sides of the plate with the sharp break on it."

Command is more important than velocity, which is something Danks and Don Cooper both emphasized, but it definitely increases his margin for error. It's easier to "change speeds with four pitches" when the top-end speed his higher, and he'd theoretically be less prone to fatigue-induced command problems with more arm strength.

Those kinds of conclusions are impossible to read from here, and the real fatigue and shoulder-stress issues won't enter the picture for a number of months. Staying in the present, Danks did what he could to push his second post-surgery season in the right direction.