Danks takes step toward rotation spot
Left-hander sharp in relief; Floyd allows six runs as starter
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- John Danks did not invoke the phrase "good karma" following his stellar three-inning relief effort Tuesday against the Rangers, moving him another step closer to claiming the White Sox fifth starter's spot.
But the laid-back left-hander admitted he takes absolutely no solace in watching Gavin Floyd, his main competition for the job, struggle as the right-hander did at Surprise Stadium. In fact, Danks said he was nothing but supportive of Floyd while watching him from the visitors' bullpen over the opening 3 2/3 innings.
"I was one of the guys in the bullpen cheering for him a lot," said Danks with a smile. "I believe that if you root against someone, it will come back to bite you.
"So, I want the best for him and Charlie [Haeger]. I want to go out and get outs and let the management make that decision."
The White Sox management, which was Ozzie Guillen in the case of Tuesday's game, still would not make any firm commitment to a fifth starter following the South Siders' 12-8 victory over the Rangers. But a bit more information certainly was assembled in that decision-making process.
Floyd started and allowed six runs on nine hits over 3 2/3 innings, striking out three and walking two, while throwing 44 of his 72 pitches for strikes. After a quick first inning, in which catcher A.J. Pierzynski assisted by throwing out Ian Kinsler trying to steal second, Floyd meandered through 52 pitches over the next two innings.
Fastball location seemed to be the biggest problem for Floyd, before exiting with two outs in the fourth after striking out Sammy Sosa. But the 24-year-old's overall assessment of his own work was positive, a step in the right direction for Floyd's thought process, according to Pierzynski.
"We said some stuff to him, and hopefully it will click in and his next outing will be better," said Pierzynski of Floyd, who allowed three runs apiece in the second and the third. "He just needs to relax and enjoy it, enjoy the game. He just needs to get out of his head and go and pitch."
"Sometimes games can confuse you," Floyd added. "You can feel unbelievable and hit your spots and the results aren't reflecting anything how you felt. You try to get better and work even harder and try to analyze what you did wrong."
Within that learning process, Floyd said he planned to get feedback from Pierzynski and pitching coach Don Cooper concerning Tuesday's start. Floyd's less-than-perfect work seemed to set the stage for Danks, who responded by allowing one earned run on two hits in three innings of relief.
The left-hander, acquired from Texas as part of the Brandon McCarthy trade in December, joked about pitching Tuesday against Nate Gold, who he played with for three years in the Rangers system. Gold reached on an error by shortstop Andy Gonzalez.
But as Danks said on Monday, he has bigger goals in mind than simply facing his former team. Instead of focusing on the Rangers, Danks was bothered more by a four-pitch walk issued to one-time White Sox Minor League catcher Chris Stewart after quickly retiring Marlon Byrd and Brad Wilkerson to start the fifth.
Danks expected to hear from his father Tuesday night concerning the two-out free pass, with the tone of the conversation being something along the lines of, "What were you thinking?" That fifth inning was the only frame of the three when Danks faced Texas' starting lineup, but he attacked the Rangers hitters and mixed in his pitches, fanning Jerry Hairston Jr. on a changeup to end his first inning of work.
"Well, he just comes right after it," said Pierzynski. "He's aggressive, and that's what we want Gavin to be, aggressive, just let things happen instead of trying to fight it, make it where it's tough.
"He has a good curveball, good fastball, throws hard, and he's left-handed which always helps. He's not afraid. He just goes about his business, and he's been great since he's been in camp."
Radar readings on the left-center-field scoreboard in Surprise showed Floyd topping out at 96 mph, with Danks featuring a 91-mph fastball and an 83-mph changeup. It's safe to say Haeger's knuckleballs didn't come close to that range during his five innings pitched as the "B" game starter in Tucson against Arizona on Tuesday morning.
Haeger stood on the fringe of the fifth starter's battle entering Tuesday but is firmly in play for a relief spot. He did nothing to hurt his cause by allowing three runs, only one of them earned, on six hits over five innings. All three runs scored in Haeger's final frame, when he pushed his pitch count to 66.
"Yeah, I'm happy with what I did today," Haeger said. "I was throwing strikes with [the knuckler], had two walks where it got away a bit, but other than that, I was happy. I threw my curve for strikes, and my fastball felt good."
Echoing the exact sentiment expressed by Floyd and Danks, Haeger has no real idea where he stands in the fifth starter's battle. He quickly added that using him as a starter or using him every 10th day out of the bullpen both work for him -- his focus remains on earning a roster spot.
This much is known about the ultimate fifth starter's decision. Floyd and Haeger will have approximately three starts apiece to further their respective cause, and Guillen said Tuesday that Danks will get a chance to start somewhere -- possibly his next time out.
All three want to make the team. All three also want to earn the job and not win it at the expense of the other two.
"There's still plenty of time for someone to step up," Danks said. "I fully expect Gavin to start throwing to his capabilities, and I feel like I'm going to keep improving and Charlie is a good pitcher, so who knows? I don't make those decisions. If I made those decisions, I'd be a lock already."
"We're going to go with the best we have," Guillen added. "Whoever throws the ball better in Spring Training, that's the one we're going to take."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.