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."