Updated: March 7, 2014 11:34PM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Three scoreless innings for John Danks look nice in the box score, but the White Sox left-hander was especially pleased with how most everything looked in his first Cactus League start Thursday.
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.’’
Danks had shoulder surgery in August 2012. His 2013 season is essentially viewed as a recovery year, and he is feeling more like his old self this spring, which is encouraging for a rotation that needs an effective 200-inning pitcher to go with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.
“[Pitching coach Don Cooper] and I have talked about that,’’ Danks said. “I welcome the challenge of being a seven-plus-inning guy night in, night out, pitching 200-plus innings and giving us a chance to win. You’re only as good as your pitching [as a team], and I’m kind of the swingman, I guess. I welcome that. I’m expecting a good year. I’m going to work hard at it, and I feel like I’m where I need to be at this point.’’
Danks said the biggest difference for him this spring is command of his cutter.
“We actually worked on throwing it to both sides of the plate, and that was effective,’’ he said. “It was around the zone, had a sharp break on it. That’s where I expected to be. Keep on improving, but I’m pleased with how it was so far.’’
For all of the talk about Danks’ fastball being down a tick or two last season, the improving life in his arm means just as much to his cutter.
“It’s just strengthening, being able to get my arm where it needs to be and have enough behind [the cutter] to spin it right and make it move,’’ Danks said. “Last year, I had trouble spinning it, and it was backing up on me and getting hit. This year, I’m able to drive the ball where I want, and that was proved by being able to throw it to both sides of the plate with the sharp break on it.’’
Because he’s a year and a half removed from shoulder surgery, Danks’ velocity has become something of a talking point. Even he admits to jumping out of his shoes every now and then to record a speed-gun reading that looks better on his man card.
He didn’t Thursday. Besides, it does him no good. Cooper knows that Danks was a 90-92 mph guy before surgery, and he said a little less velocity had little or nothing to do with his career-high rate of home runs allowed and that 4.75 ERA.
Danks said it always comes down to “throwing the ball where you’re trying to throw it,’’ and he had problems there.
“Three-quarters of my homers last year were balls I was trying to throw away that cut back or was trying to get in and didn’t get in far enough — and obviously were up,’’ Danks said.
Danks might be feeling stronger, but Cooper is still “proceeding without being worried about John’s velocity.’’
“It’s going to be what it’s going to be,’’ Cooper said. ‘‘If he gets it back, great, but he still has to locate. You’ve still got to be able to pitch, change speeds and locate.’’