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Reasons to keep close eye on Sox’ John Danks

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher John Danks throws during first inning spring training baseball game against Seattle Mariners Thursday March

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher John Danks throws during the first inning of spring training baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Thursday, March 3, 2011, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

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Updated: July 1, 2011 12:16AM

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The best pitcher in a White Sox uniform threw Sunday.

Check that: The best pitcher in Chicago threw Sunday.

Too bad so few people are taking notice, because they’re missing quite a show.

So how can that change for John Danks in 2011? Well, that already might be happening.

“You talk to guys around the league, and I think they’re starting to know that on any given day Johnny Danks has a chance to go out and completely take over a ballgame, dominate it,’’ Sox starter Jake Peavy said before a Cactus League game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Coincidentally, a game in which Danks dominated, throwing five scoreless innings of one-hit ball.

“I don’t care if it’s the Yankees, Boston lineup or a weaker lineup, Johnny doesn’t get the recognition that Cliff Lee and a CC Sabathia get in the game,” Peavy said. “Not taking anything away from those guys, Johnny is an elite pitcher right now and one of the best lefties in baseball. Word’s getting out.’’

The numbers sure are.

Since 2008, Danks has the second-most starts of any lefty in the American League with 97, third-most strikeouts (470) and fifth-most wins (40). The kicker? He’s still 25.

Wait until the kid actually starts getting a full understanding of this pitching thing.

“That’s what’s scary — he’s still figuring out who he is in the game and who he is on the mound,’’ Peavy said.

Coming up in Mark Buehrle’s shadow has been both a blessing and a curse for Danks.

Buehrle has been the face of the Sox pitching staff for almost a decade, sporting a World Series ring as well as having a no-hitter and perfect game on his resume. He saves stray dogs with arrows in them, for goodness sake — I mean, how do you compete with that?

So when Danks arrived in a 2006 trade with Texas in which Ken Williams might as well have been wearing a ski mask because of how one-sided it ended up being, the immediate assumption was to make him a Buehrle clone.

After all, he had a similar demeanor off the mound, so he must be the same on it.

That couldn’t be further from reality.

Both are left-handed, and that’s when the comparisons stop. If anything, Buehrle had a lot more in common with David Wells — who had a cup of coffee with the Sox back in 2001 — than Danks. Buehrle and Wells both were soft-tossers, pitched backwards and often threw off the batter’s last swing. On most nights they were very hittable; other nights, however, they were magical enough to make pitching history.

Danks falls more into the hard-throwing lefty class and brings a plus-changeup, cutter and breaking ball to the scene of the crime.

“Numbers don’t lie — he was our best guy all year long [in 2010], from top to bottom,’’ Peavy said. “He was our No. 1, so to speak.’’

He should be the No. 1 this Opening Day as well, with the Sox set to face Cleveland in a few weeks. But Buehrle has reached patriarch status, so it’s history over substance.

“John is a premiere power lefty in this game,’’ Peavy said, “and a lot of people don’t view it like that.’’

The Sox might want to start.

Danks earns $6 million this year, with one more season of arbitration before hitting free agency. If Buehrle is to receive $14 million in 2011, Danks easily looks to be in the $15 million-per-year range on the open market.

Pay the man, chairman.

He is not a trade piece, nor is he holding down Chris Sale’s spot. Danks is the future for likely the next seven years.

“We’re not in a position where we have to get something done,’’ Danks said earlier in camp about his contract future. “I’m going to still be here next year.’’

That approach hasn’t changed for him with his contract or with how he is viewed in the game.

“I don’t think about all that stuff, and it doesn’t bother me,’’ Danks said Sunday. “If I was asked the question who the best pitchers are on our team, I would answer Mark or a healthy Jake, even Gavin [Floyd] or Edwin [Jackson]. I’m fine under the radar.’’

He was fine. That could all change in ’11 if people start paying attention.

“Johnny has been through the fire, and he’s ready to step up in a big way,’’ Peavy said. “I’ll take him any day of the week against anybody, anywhere.’’

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