For the first time since his rookie season, John Danks isn't inevitable.
The White Sox are going out of their way to skip his Monday start, which is the second time they've moved his cheese in the young season.
Officially, Erik Johnson was optioned to Charlotte with a corresponding move to be made Monday. Unofficially, Miguel Gonzalez will come up and take Danks' start, with Danks being pushed back all the way to Friday in Baltimore.
It's not curious when looking at the day in isolation. John Danks hasn't had success against the Blue Jays, and for good reason -- he's a lefty without heat, and the Blue Jays have a lot of right-handed thumpers. Gonzalez, as a righty who's made a name by pitching better than his stuff, gives the Sox a more favorable matchup sight unseen. Since 2012:
Danks vs. Toronto: 1-0, 7.17 ERA, 21.1 IP, 27 H, 3 HR, 3 BB, 11 K
- Gonzalez vs. Toronto: 7-3, 2.61 ERA, 76 IP, 56 H, 7 HR, 21 BB, 54 K
But they're definitely going out of their way to get a look at Gonzalez, because a fully rested right-handed starter was already with the team. Johnson had an easy week, picking up five days of MLB earnings without pitching once. The path of least resistance would've been to start Johnson, then send him back down. The Sox have been wary of him even when he's dominated Triple-A, though, and Johnson hadn't looked nearly as impressive against the competition in the Cactus and International leagues so far this year.
Enter Gonzalez, whom the White Sox signed to a minor league deal after the Orioles cut him at the end of spring training. I saw pitch in Charlotte last Sunday, and he looked mostly like his Baltimore self. He worked 88-91 mph on the stadium radar with a good curveball, and maintained both multiple times through the order. I'll note that the gun might've been cold, because I didn't see Daniel Webb register a fastball hotter than 92, and Tampa Bay prospect Blake Snell didn't break that barrier either. (Granted, I wasn't checking every pitch for either pitcher, but often enough on fastballs to get a sense that something might've been amiss.)
The question about the gun's readings is an important one, because Gonzalez averaged 91 with his fastball over his Orioles days, and they cut him because he was off by 3-4 mph all spring. That's a huge drop for any pitcher, but it's especially vital for Gonzalez, who never had knockout peripherals and had to "settle" for being a guy who annually beat his FIP for reasons that aren't entirely clear.
Apparently his stuff looked bad enough for the Orioles to release him, even though their rotation is much thinner than that of a team like the White Sox (by doing it before the season, they saved most of his $5.1 million salary due in an arb year; think Dayan Viciedo). Jeff Sullivan tried to make sense of it:
In his first starts of 2013, 2014, and 2015, Gonzalez’s fastball averaged about 90.7 miles per hour. That’s the gray line. Now look at the green. In maybe the most important spring-training appearance of his life, with his arm stretched out, Gonzalez threw his average fastball at 87.6. It mostly bounced around between 86 – 88, and there were precisely two readings of 90. So assuming the gun was correct, Gonzalez topped out below his previous average. Velocity declines — it’s a fact of life. Gonzalez still has most of his old power. But if you’re the Orioles, you wonder where those three miles went. At his best, Gonzalez had to be crafty. He never had that big of a margin of error. It’s smaller, now. It’s smaller for as long as this is Gonzalez’s heat. [...]
I know nothing of Gonzalez’s medicals. The Orioles know everything there is to know, and they agreed to that $5.1-million figure a few months back. So, yeah. But the velocity drop is important. It sounds like Gonzalez is going to get another opportunity. He could flourish, especially if his arm just isn’t built up yet, or if this has to do with something mechanical. Let’s face it — the Orioles haven’t always made the best calls with pitchers in the system. I just get where they’re coming from. In Gonzalez’s last spring-training game, the Orioles weren’t looking for results. They were looking for Miguel Gonzalez. They didn’t see the guy they recognized.
Rick Hahn said the Sox saw Gonzalez's velocity coming back, and the pitch data in Toronto will be a pretty good measuring stick.
Working for Gonzalez -- he's not the only one fighting velocity problems. Danks has lost a couple ticks himself this year, with his hard stuff averaging around 87-88, down from 90 the year before. That's one reason to think that his first three starts -- 0-3, 6.23 ERA, .861 OPS allowed -- might be more than a rough patch for somebody who ends up being a serviceable fifth starter this time around.
Danks is scheduled for one more start at this point (Friday against Baltimore), but he said he doesn't know what's in store for him afterward, and Ventura didn't offer clues, either:
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Gonzalez's status past Monday night was "to be determined."
"As of right now, I'm throwing in Baltimore," Danks said. "That's truthfully all I know."
The Sox have been so loyal to Danks that I doubt that it will be his last start, especially since it's easy enough to envision Gonzalez flopping and returning to Charlotte to keep building.
But it's new -- and exciting -- to see them evaluating their options at the major league level before September. It may not be Gonzalez, but he has options and MLB success in his favor, so he'll get the first crack. If he doesn't stick, Jacob Turner is starting to pitch well, and Johnson could again. All three of them represent a pitcher who is Not John Danks, and we could be seeing plenty of TBD,NJD in the near future.