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White Sox’ John Danks relishes duel with Tigers’ Justin Verlander

John Danks facing JustVerlander: “Without sounding like meathead it’s fun go against best guys.” | AP

John Danks on facing Justin Verlander: “Without sounding like a meathead, it’s fun to go against the best guys.” | AP

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Updated: September 10, 2012 4:42PM

DETROIT — The White Sox’ task of chipping away at the Tigers’ 51/2 game lead with 28 to play is big enough. When Detroit plops ­Justin Verlander in front of them as the first boulder to be moved, well, that’s borderline unfair.

“Man, you know you have to be good,’’ said White Sox left-hander John Danks, who has the task of pitching against the AL Cy Young Award favorite when the Sox open their must-win weekend series with the Tigers on Friday night. “He’s been the best pitcher in baseball this year, there’s no doubt.’’

There’s no doubt Danks, who is 6-1 with a 2.03 in his last 11 starts, including a 10-strikeout, three-hit shutout in Seattle in his last one, is among the best since June 1.

Verlander, 20-5 with a 2.38 ERA and 218 strikeouts in 2152/3 innings, gives Detroit the big-time ace the Sox covet — but he is 10-10 with a 4.45 ERA career ERA against the Sox, and he gave up five runs in six innings in an 8-2 loss to the Sox in Detroit on July 15. Eleven days later, he gave up four runs — two on homers by Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko — in a 5-4 victory against the Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

Nobody is citing a chink in Verlander’s armor, however.

“There’s a few guys having great years but he’s had the best year,’’ Danks said.

“You try to tell yourself, ‘Just go out there and try to throw zeros,’ but at the same time you know that you really don’t have that much room for error. I’m going to try to approach it like I do every day and see how it turns out. I’m definitely hoping to try to match him.’’

Mark Buehrle (11-6, 3.05) will pitch in Sunday night’s series finale against the Tigers’ No. 2, Max Scherzer (13-8, 4.52). With Gavin Floyd (12-10, 4.36) pitching Saturday, the Sox have their top three starters going from a rotation that is losing steam from Jake Peavy, Zach Stewart and Philip Humber — who returns from the disabled list Monday.

“This weekend will tell us a lot about the rest of the season,’’ Danks said. “If we go up there and play well, it’ll be tight to the end. God forbid we go up there and lay an egg. That could be the end. We’re playing pretty good baseball [five wins in last six, 15 of 23].’’

The Tigers’ loss to Kansas City on Thursday brought the Sox to within four in the loss column. Views from the Sox clubhouse on what the Sox need out of the weekend vary from Peavy calling for a sweep to manager Ozzie Guillen calling to avoid one.

“I would say we don’t need to dig the hole any deeper,’’ Danks said. “There’s only limited games left.’’

The Sox have 28 games in 27 days, including three against the Tigers at home Sept. 12-14.

“We definitely need two of three,’’ Paul Konerko said. “We have to gain ground and move on from there.’’

It has been an eventful week on the South Side, where Guillen caused a stir by saying he wants a contract extension beyond next season while the Sox stayed in the AL Central race by winning five consecutive games.

Sox players who have been through these dramas before seem unaffected. Danks has been through much worse with his 0-8 start.

“I know I can pretty much take anything in this game,’’ Danks said. “That was the worst stretch in my baseball career, even looking back on Little League. I’ve never been through anything like that. I can pretty much take anything that kind of gets thrown at me. It’s definitely something that builds strength, I guess. Confidence and strength.’’

On top of everything else, Danks took a line drive off the back of his head this June in Arizona. He stayed in the game.

“I know I can take a shot to the face for two months and bounce back,’’ he said.

A win against Verlander would almost make those eight losses all worth it.

“I love it, I love it,’’ Danks said of Friday night’s challenge. “Without sounding like a meathead, it’s fun to go against the best guys. Big series, and it should be a fun atmosphere. If you beat Justin Verlander, you’ve accomplished something.’’

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