suntimes
SHARP 
Weather Updates

John Danks, Tyler Flowers biggest keys to White Sox’ chances

An injury his left shoulder which eventually required surgery prevented John Danks from pitching after May 19 last season. |

An injury to his left shoulder, which eventually required surgery, prevented John Danks from pitching after May 19 last season. | Amy Sancetta~AP

storyidforme: 44292236
tmspicid: 10398365
fileheaderid: 4783682

Updated: March 11, 2013 6:29AM



Does left-hander John Danks’ return, assuming he’s back to full health after shoulder surgery, make the starting rotation good enough to keep the White Sox in contention in the American League Central? By letting catcher A.J. Pierzynski and third baseman Kevin Youkilis walk away in free agency while making non-marquee names Jeff Keppinger and Matt Lindstrom their ‘‘big’’ free-agent acquisitions, it’s probably a good thing the Sox lowered most of their ticket prices. The rest of the division spent more to get better.

Key arrivals

Infielder Jeff Keppinger and reliever Matt Lindstrom. Keppinger (.325 batting average with the Rays in 2012) is a contact hitter and versatile position player who heads to camp as the No. 1 third baseman and possibly the No. 2 hitter in manager Robin Ventura’s batting order. Lindstrom (2.68 ERA with two teams in 2012) fills out a bullpen that blends the experience of Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain with the youth of Addison Reed and Nate Jones.

Other newcomers

Infielders Lars Anderson, Angel Sanchez and Steve Tolleson, outfielder Blake Tokette, pitchers Ramon Troncoso, David Purcey and Jeff Gray and catcher Bryan Anderson. Sanchez, a Rule 5 draft pick from the Angels, has the best chance to make the Opening Day roster.

Key departures

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski, third baseman Kevin Youkilis, reliever Brett Myers.

Also gone

Pitchers Philip Humber and Francisco Liriano and infielder Orlando Hudson.

The big questions

Will the Sox score enough runs to support what looks like a solid pitching staff? They ranked fourth in the American League with 748 runs scored and third with 211 homers last season, but they lost Pierzynski’s career-high 27 homers, 77 RBI and 68 runs scored and Youkilis’ 15 homers and 46 RBI from the second half. Tyler Flowers’ No. 1 responsibility is catching, but there will be pressure on him to get on base and drive in runs.

The X-factor

John Danks’ left shoulder. After signing a five-year, $65 million contract extension, Danks replaced Mark Buehrle as the Opening Day starter last season, but he didn’t pitch after he beat the Cubs o n May 19. Danks, who had arthroscopic surgery Aug. 6 to repair a torn capsule and more minor injuries to the rotator cuff and biceps, is on target to break camp with the team, but he might be held back a few weeks. If he, Chris Sale and Jake Peavy are healthy, a rotation that also features Gavin Floyd and Jose Quintana or Hector Santiago has some star quality and depth.

Number-crunching

6 Where ESPN ranked the AL Central among Major League Baseball’s six divisions. The Indians appear to be improved with additions that include manager Terry Francona and the AL champion Tigers have Victor Martinez back and signed free agent Torii Hunter, but the ranking is deserved.

6-12 The Sox’ record last season against the 72-90 Royals, whom they open and close their season against. On paper, the Royals made more offseason improvements than the Sox did.

6.20 Closer Addison Reed’s ERA in non-save situations. His ERA while converting 29 of 33 save opportunities was 3.56.

.9883 The Sox’ fielding percentage in 2012, the best in baseball. Their 70 errors were the fewest in the majors, proving the Sox catch balls they get to. But the sabermetric UZR (ultimate zone rating) ranks the Sox’ defense 17th among major-league teams.

8 Rookie pitchers used by the Sox in a 14-inning victory July 13 at Kansas City, a major-league record. Experience gained bodes well for this season — unless, of course, those sophomore slumps settle in.

Save the dates

Tuesday: Pitchers and catchers report.

Feb. 17: Position players report, first full-squad workout.

Feb. 23: Cactus League opener vs. Dodgers in Glendale, Ariz.

March 5: vs. Team USA in Glendale.

March 15: vs. Cubs (split squad) in Glendale.

March 27: Cactus League finale vs. Indians in Glendale.

March 29-30: Exhibiti ons vs. Brewers in Milwaukee.

April 1: Opening Day vs. Royals at U.S. Cellular Field, 3:05 p.m.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.