At a time when Erik Johnson is reassigned early and Mat Lato looks wobbly in his first start, the White Sox needed a boost of confidence from John Danks.
Sure enough, Danks showed why he's the rock and the fan favorite by following a start of five scoreless frames with six more zeroes. That's quite the turnaround considering he opened the spring with three ugly starts (13 earned runs over 9⅔ innings).
According to the parties involved, Dioner Navarro tipped the scales in Danks' favor by pointing out how Danks tipped pitches.
When White Sox left-hander John Danks gave up eight earned runs against the Diamondbacks in a spring training outing last week, catcher Dioner Navarro approached him about a potential change.
Navarro suspected Danks was tipping his pitches, and Danks said he made a simple adjustment to keep his glove in the same place before every pitch.
"I might still be pitching against Arizona if he didn't tell me that," Danks said.
Navarro said Danks had a tendency to hold his glove against his stomach against certain pitches. Here's an example of how the catcher change could pay off beyond framing -- not necessarily because Navarro is especially savvy in these matters (although he might be).
In this case, Navvaro is 11-for-26 with three homers, three doubles, and two walks to just one strikeout over 29 plate appearances against Danks. Beyond that, the Blue Jays pasted Danks in both of his two starts last year, so perhaps Navarro is relaying a tendency he heard through the dugout. The same can be said for Alex Avila, who saw the White Sox staff far more often with Detroit.
Whenever it comes to changes Danks makes, I don't expect any one adjustment's effects to last long, because his post-surgery revival has depended on jumping from patch to patch. Nevertheless, I'll welcome all positive reports in terms of pitcher-catcher interaction, because it'll take some of this to make sure that the expected offensive games aren't offset by a leaky receiving game. And hell, after last week, it's good to see a tangible example of veteran leadership:
"I pick up these things from being around awhile," Navarro said. "These things happen more than you think. That is what spring training is for. We are all working on something. Now is the time to clean it up. When the season starts and I start putting up numbers, then I will ask for a raise."
While Danks and Latos have more or less secured the back of the rotation, the last bench spot for position players is up for grabs, and their stories are being told.
There's Jerry Sands, who offers some right-handed power and the ability to play first base, but with a couple problematic items on his to-do list:
One is to remember how to hit the fastball again. Hitting coach Todd Steverson said that skill can get dulled playing at Triple-A as Sands has for much of the past few seasons. [...]
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said the fastball hasn’t been an issue for Sands this spring. The bigger task in Ventura’s mind is for Sands -- who would be an option at first base and in the outfield -- to show improvement against right-handed pitching. Sands has an .846 career OPS against southpaws but only a .569 against righties.
There are a couple ways to interpret Ventura's assessment:
*Unsparingly: Ventura would take a platoon bat and expect him to hit same-sided pitching for reasons undetermined.
*Charitably: Ventura would like the player occupying that spot to be able to hit lefties, since Avisail Garcia could use the help until further notice.
If the latter isn't the case, then you'd think he'd rather have a left-handed hitter. That's where Travis Ishikawa enters, because he has the opposite labels as Sands -- a lefty who is a true first baseman with the ability to fake it in a corner spot. The problem is that he doesn't have much beyond those descriptors, because he's not a particularly strong platoon bat. He owns a lifetime line of .258/.326/.401 against right-handed pitching, and it's down to .235/.315/.372 over the last three seasons. That's better than Sands and Garcia against righties, but not enough to feel impervious from further decline.
And then there's Matt Davidson, who has yet to fall off. He's hitting .438/.455/.844 with four homers and just five strikeouts over 33 plate appearances. Dan Hayes says Robin Ventura sees a legit change:
But there’s no question that Davidson has opened some eyes. Ventura believes the past two years may be powering these changes.
"Sometimes that can be the end of it, and I think he’s used it for the good," Ventura said. "You can use it as fuel to be able to ride it out the rest of your career, knowing you’re able to handle it and get over it and shorten stretches that are like that.
"You’re seeing a different guy."
... as does the venerable One AL Scout:
But he’s here. And as one AL scout said, Davidson’s swing is simpler and allows him to tap into his power -- the 24-year-old’s best asset -- more easily.
Davidson, like Sands, has played first in the past, even if far less often than his primary position. Unlike Sands, Davidson doesn't have any success in Triple-A to draw from in either of the last two seasons, which still makes this development difficult to buy.
Ideally, the Sox would be able to combine Sands' platoon splits with Ishikawa's left-handedness and Davidson's age. Instead, if the Sox are content with a corner type instead of a (super)utility player like Carlos Sanchez or Leury Garcia, they'll have to pick their preferred attribute and roll with it for a bit.