Danks takes control in fifth starter battle

Danks in control in fifth starter battle

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Final roster decisions are never made in a one-man vacuum where the White Sox organization is concerned.

But if manager Ozzie Guillen's opinion represents the direction in which the team is leaning as the final week of Spring Training approaches, then John Danks appears to be all but a lock to break camp with the White Sox. The 21-year-old left-hander further solidified his claim to fill one of the two or three openings on the active roster with four innings of one-hit ball Friday at Hi Corbett Field against the Colorado Rockies' starting lineup.

"Right now, Danks is really impressive with the way he throws, and I think he should be on the ballclub," said Guillen after thunder, lightning and a torrential downpour shortened Friday's contest to 6 1/2 innings. "Now, the decision is: be in the bullpen or be the fifth starter. We have to make that decision.

"That's my decision, but that decision is a group decision. It's not Ozzie's decision. My coaching staff, if we agree, then we're all together here."

Danks made his spring statement a bit louder Friday by yielding a leadoff double to Willy Taveras and three walks amongst his 45 pitches. Danks was scheduled to work five innings and probably could have pitched even deeper into the game with the comfort zone he found Friday, but the White Sox wanted fellow fifth-starter contender Gavin Floyd to get his opportunity before the rain came.

So, the outing was shortened for Danks, who threw another 30 pitches on the side. Ever the perfectionist, Danks wasn't thrilled with one-out walks issued to Matt Holliday in the second and Chris Iannetta in the third and a four-pitch free pass given to Kazuo Matsui leading off the fourth.

Two double plays bailed Danks out of trouble. He helped himself by picking off Holliday from first and fielding Aaron Cook's sacrifice bunt attempt on one hop and starting a rundown that eventually would retire the lead runner in Iannetta.

Even with the walks, Danks attacked the zone aggressively as he has done all camp and threw 26 of his 45 pitches for strikes.

"You can't defend a walk," said Danks with a smile, harping on his one issue Friday. "I know it sounds cheesy, but it's true. To give three free passes in four innings is unacceptable. But it's the first time I've had control issues in that regard and nothing I'm worried about."

"Throws strikes, attacking the strike zone," added Guillen of what he likes about Danks, who has walked four over 16 2/3 innings. "What I see I like, and I think [general manager] Kenny [Williams] will agree with what I say, and we'll go from there."

The only Cactus League slip-up for Danks came last Sunday in Peoria, when the crafty southpaw allowed six runs on nine hits over 3 2/3 innings. Danks pointed out Friday that he really had two good innings and two bad innings during that particular start, while Guillen added how the White Sox jumped out to a 7-0 lead over San Diego and Danks was throwing instead of pitching.

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During that 14-7 victory over the Padres, Floyd worked 4 1/3 solid innings of relief and gave up just one run on three hits. It was an important outing for Floyd, who started 19 of his previous 24 career games with the Phillies, but now appears to find himself in prime contention for the staff's long reliever position.

Friday's relief statistics weren't nearly as impressive for the right-hander, whose spring ERA rose to 8.44, courtesy of Garrett Atkins' sixth-inning grand slam and five runs given up in two innings. Yet, Floyd continues to feel as if he's progressing on the mound, aside from finding a way to consistently get ahead of the hitters.

"I just didn't get that done," said Floyd of staying ahead in the count. "It's small but it's a really big thing, especially as a pitcher. Maybe it's a mental change or a focus change. I just need to get that done.

"Hopefully, things will have a little bit better results once I make that change. I know I keep repeating myself, but I keep feeling better and better each time I go out there."

This particular sentiment expressed by Floyd, concerning feeling good on the mound, was echoed by Williams, who even pulled Floyd aside privately two weeks ago to explain how he's stridently moving in the right direction. But Guillen now looks as if he's doing more than slightly leaning toward Danks in this fifth starter competition.

Having the 25-man roster set before the team leaves for an exhibition game at Double-A Birmingham on March 29 always was Guillen's expressed goal. Floyd is scheduled to start Tuesday in Tempe against the Angels, and Danks gets another start Wednesday at home against the Diamondbacks, with a fifth starter decision figuring to come shortly thereafter.

Following Friday's contest, though, Guillen said a final decision could be made Saturday or Sunday. If Danks is on the team and the White Sox move into the season with an 11-man staff, then Andrew Sisco, David Aardsma, Boone Logan, Charlie Haeger, Ryan Bukvich, Floyd and Adam Russell all are in contention to fill two slots on the staff.

Russell's start Sunday against Texas and Logan working two innings his next time out become as important as Floyd's next start in the overall roster scheme.

"Whatever I can do to help the team out and whatever I can do to be in Chicago," said Floyd when asked if he could work as a reliever.

"I have no idea," added Russell, a non-roster invitee, when asked if he had done enough to make the active roster. "I will have to wait and see how Sunday goes. I don't think they know and I know I don't know, so I couldn't answer that question truthfully."

Much like Russell, Danks understands all he can do is pitch and wait for the decisions to be made. But as an example of a true team player, he's certainly not going to disagree with Guillen's assessment that he deserves a spot amongst the 2007 White Sox.

"If I make decisions, I feel I'm in," said Danks with a wry smile. "But I don't make the decision, so I have to just keeping doing what I'm doing. I feel confident where I'm at now.

"Coming in, I don't think they really expected me to be where I'm at. Coming in, I think they figured it would be a two-man race between Gavin and Charlie. They had confidence in me, and they obviously feel I can get guys out. And I feel like I pitched my way into contention a little bit."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.