White Sox

Cautiously optimistic, Danks takes a step in the right direction

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Cautiously optimistic, Danks takes a step in the right direction

They're baby steps, but the road back to a major-league mound has to start somewhere for injured White Sox starter John Danks. And his work Tuesday before the White Sox face the Twins at U.S. Cellular Field helped put at least a little smile on Danks' face in the clubhouse.

The left-hander hasn't pitched for the White Sox since his May 19 win over the Cubs and has pitched just four innings total -- on June 12, in a rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte -- due to a Grade 1 tear in the subscapularis muscle in his throwing shoulder. But he was able to throw 20 pitches off the bullpen mound after completing his normal throwing session from 120-130 feet and working in.

"It was about as good as expected, maybe even better," Danks said. "All in all it was a good day. Am I ready to go pitch somewhere? No. But this is a necessary step and hopefully tomorrow it bounces back and that will tell us what we need to know.

"That's kind of been the biggest problem. Every time we've gotten to this point, it's taken me a day or two to be able to go do it again. We're working on strength. It's been a while since I've thrown and it's going to be a process but we're trying to speed it up the best we can."

White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper concurred with Danks' good vibes from the pregame work.

"I'd have to agree with him. Listen, any time we go out there and we do something it's a positive step," pitching coach Don Cooper said. "He's been going through the throwing program and today we threw 20 on the mound. We'll see how he feels tomorrow. We're grading him on how he feels before, during and after -- and today went okay. We'll see tomorrow and go from there."

For Danks, who made at least 32 starts three seasons in a row before making 27 last season, the extent of his injury and length of his absence has given him an unusual feeling. But being back up on the mound helped him find a comfort zone he hasn't felt in quite a while.

"I think the most gratifying part was getting on the mound just because that's what we're working towards, but all of it's good," Danks said. "Being able to go out there and throw 120-130 feet and then work it back in and then to be able to get on the mound and throw from there, that's a big step. We'll see how it goes from here, but today's definitely been a good day so far.

"Heck, it's been so long since I put a pair of spikes on, that was a win in my book," Danks said. "I didn't spin any, or even really focus on throwing strikes. It was more just going through my motion and being able to get it to the plate and I was able to do that for 20."

"We're trying to get his arm strength up by throwing, playing catch, going through a good amount of throws from different distances and then today was the first time -- at the end of it -- we went to the mound and threw 20 fastballs," Cooper said. "He wasn't coming out of his shoes or anything like that but, again, for us to do what we did today, it's definitely a step."

With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, rumors continue to swirl that White Sox general manager Kenny Williams is looking to add a significant pitcher to the starting rotation -- namely Milwaukee's Zack Greinke. Could Danks make Williams' decision to deal any easier by taking the mound in a Sox uniform sometime soon?

"I wish I had an answer for you. When it first happened, I didn't initially think I needed to go on the DL. Just miss a start, push me back a few days and go from there," Danks said. "This thing's kind of taken a lot longer than we expected.

"I hope late August, but this is uncharted territory for me. I've never dealt with a shoulder problem," Danks said "Certainly that's the hope, get back in time for the stretch run and hopefully be strong enough and good enough to help push us into the playoffs."

Even a return just weeks before the postseason begins would still be a welcome addition for Williams and the White Sox, especially if first-year starter Chris Sale or rookie Jose Quintana hit a wall as they continue to reach new career-highs in innings pitched. But first, Danks has to start feeling good again and how his shoulder reacts on Wednesday and Thursday will be key in determining the next steps in his rehab.

"I made a joke the other day: it's been so long since I felt good, I don't even know what it feels like anymore," Danks said. "Everything that I'm feeling now, from the training staff and doctors, is exactly what they want me to feel. So, I'm putting all my faith in that. They've dealt with this a lot more times than I have so they know where I should be and what I should be feeling and they're pleased with that."

Would potential bargains like Mike Moustakas or Carlos Gonzalez make sense for White Sox?

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USA TODAY

Would potential bargains like Mike Moustakas or Carlos Gonzalez make sense for White Sox?

The 2017-18 baseball offseason continues to be, well, the 2017-18 baseball offseason, even with spring training games being played in Arizona and Florida.

A bunch of names remain on the free-agent market, including All-Star players who thought they would be in for big multi-year contracts. But as teams continue to deny the wishes of guys who expected to get big deals, the suggestion that those players might end up needing to take one-year offers if they want to play during the 2018 season is becoming a more common talking point.

So with potential bargains to be had for some pretty big-name players, do the White Sox jump into the waters and try to lock up a potential future piece on the cheap? Though they aren’t expected to contend this season, the White Sox have been mentioned in a pair of recent reports surrounding a pair of All-Star position players: Mike Moustakas and Carlos Gonzalez.

MLB.com's Jon Morosi wrote last week that the White Sox are a potential fit for Moustakas, who has sat and watched as former Kansas City Royals teammate Eric Hosmer received a huge contract from the San Diego Padres. Moustakas set a new Royals record last season with 38 home runs but has yet to find a team.

The White Sox, connected to Baltimore Orioles star Manny Machado earlier this offseason, seem to have a current big leaguer or highly ranked prospect locked into almost every position on the diamond for the foreseeable future, but third base isn't necessarily one of them. Jake Burger was last year’s top draft pick, though there’s speculation he could slide over to first base. The team still envisions him as a big league third baseman, for what it’s worth.

Moustakas is 29 and already has seven big league seasons under his belt, including a pair of All-Star appearances and a pair of trips to the World Series, including the Crowns’ championship back in 2015. His 38 homers and 85 RBIs in 2017 were both career highs. He slashed .272/.314/.521, the final of those three numbers the best mark of his career.

Moustakas has rarely hit for average or reached base at too high a clip, though those recent power numbers would be intriguing at a hitter-friendly park like Guaranteed Rate Field, where he has 10 career dingers, 26 career RBIs and a .249/.308/.456 career slash line as a visitor.

Certainly Moustakas would be a buzz-worthy addition, and if the White Sox could get him for a good value thanks to this slow-moving market, that adds incentive to bring him aboard. A short contract would have even more incentive for the rebuilding White Sox, who would have the option to either sign him to a long-term deal or deal him away in a deadline deal depending on his immediate production levels.

But for fans hoping the White Sox will spend big on a third baseman in one of the next two offseasons — Machado is a free agent next winter, and Colorado Rockies star Nolan Arenado is set to hit the market the winter after next — slotting in an outside addition at the hot corner now could impact those plans.

Gonzalez is a completely different story, a three-time All Star during his 10-year big league career who is just three seasons removed from a 40-homer campaign in 2015. The 32-year-old Gonzalez also has a trio of Gold Gloves to go along with his 215 career home runs. FanRag’s Jon Heyman listed the White Sox as a possible landing spot for CarGo this weekend.

But his walk year in Colorado was not a very good one by his standards. In 136 games for a Rockies team that ended up in the playoffs, he slashed .262/.339/.423, all those averages way down from his usual level of production. And his power numbers plummeted to 14 homers and 57 RBIs after he combined for 65 homers and 197 RBIs in 2015 and 2016.

The good news for the White Sox is that down year makes Gonzalez far more affordable. Should he command only a one-year contract, the White Sox could take a flier, stick him in the outfield — which still has an unresolved spot with few strong offensive options for center field — and trade him should he bounce back in a big way. Or, at 32, perhaps he’s a guy the White Sox could opt to keep around should he prove valuable and the rebuild continues to move along ahead of schedule.

Gonzalez seems the less risky move at this point, as Moustakas could still be looking for a multi-year contract. But the White Sox have plenty of financial flexibility and flexibility in their decision-making should they add either guy and he proves worthy of a midseason deal or a long-term look.

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”