John Danks had his last turn skipped in the White Sox rotation and knew he had to pitch better to help dig his team out of the first-half hole in which they’re currently mired.
With seven shutout innings against Baltimore to pace a 1-0 win Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field, Danks took a step toward his goal of turning around his season — and his team’s fortunes.
“I’ve pitched my way into being the guy who gets skipped. I understand that,” Danks, who went 10 days between starts, said. “My goal is to be consistent, go out there and work my way into being one of the top guys again. My job is when I get the ball to go deep in the game and give us a chance to win. And hopefully this will start a nice little run for me.”
Danks out-dueled Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez in what felt like a turn-back-the-clock night for a pair of pitchers who have fallen from their 2008-2010 primes.
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After throwing a 10-hit shutout May 31 in Houston, Danks was rocked in four June starts, posting a 6.85 ERA and allowing 33 hits (five home runs) over 22 1/3 innings. His season ERA spiked to 5.38, the eighth-worst mark for a qualified starting pitcher entering Friday.
Danks didn’t necessarily make any major changes for his start Friday night, though his sparingly used curveball wound up being his best pitch. After throwing his curveball for nine percent of his pitches this season, Danks threw 16 in 93 pitches — a 17-percent rate — and Orioles hitters didn’t put a single one of them in play. He generated five swings and misses on it, and his success with the curveball allowed his fastball to be more effective.
“That was a pretty good pitch for him, especially now that he’s showing not only the ability to throw it for strikes, but to throw it below the zone,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “It’s definitely a good weapon for him, good change of speed. I think it kind of levels out the playing field as far as his fastball setting up the curveball tandem combo. All of a sudden that 89. 90, 91 has a feeling like you’re throwing 95.”
The result was Danks limiting a Baltimore side that came to U.S. Cellular Field with baseball’s sixth-best team OPS (.741) to five singles and two walks with five strikeouts. The only run support he needed was Jose Abreu's third-inning solo home run.
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It wasn’t vintage Danks — he didn’t rely on his curveball much during his best years — but it was another sign that the 30-year-old left-hander is continuing to try different things to regain the effectiveness he lost with shoulder surgery in 2012.
Since the start of the 2013 season, Danks has the lowest WAR (0.7) of any starting pitcher with at least 400 innings pitched, though his issues haven’t been due to a lack of effort.
“It’s been hard to get that velocity back that he had before, you have to be able to adapt and do things, and I think tonight looked a lot better in the form he's trying to create and to be able to locate,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He's not reaching back trying to get anymore. There's enough there to be able to get guys off the fastball or changeup.”
Or the curveball, as was the case Friday. With that pitch working and changing the eye level of Orioles hitters, his fastball became more effective, which in turn helped set up his changeup.
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The White Sox have now won three consecutive games — two over the first-place Cardinals and one over the Orioles, who entered Friday tied for first place in the American League East. Last place still has a strong grip on the White Sox with four games until the midway point of the season. But wins breed hope, and this is a clubhouse that still hopes it can navigate the long road back to contention.
“We all have to pull our weight,” Danks said. “That certainly includes me, and maybe even a little more than some of the other guys. I haven’t played as well as I would have liked. I also said that we’ve dug ourselves a deep hole but there’s a lot of the season left.
“If we can start playing consistent baseball, each doing our jobs, we might find ourselves back in this thing.”