Danks wins White Sox fifth starter's job

Danks wins Sox fifth starter's job

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Before the media could approach John Danks following Saturday's Cactus League action with Arizona and talk to him about the biggest moment of his very young career, White Sox vice president of communications Scott Reifert walked up to the hurler and informed him that Ozzie Guillen requested his presence in the manager's office.

Although the 21-year-old had to suspect the message to be delivered by Guillen was something overwhelmingly positive concerning his selection for the White Sox fifth starter's spot, a little bit of doubt quickly crept into the young man's mind.

"I thought I was going to the other side," said Danks with a smile, who was officially given the nod as the White Sox fifth starter by Guillen and assistant general manager Rick Hahn, after briefly entertaining the thought he might have been reassigned to the Minor League camp.

"It's usually not good when you get called in, but I'm excited about it," Danks added. "Now, I have to go out there and do the job."

Acquired from the Rangers with Nick Masset and Jacob Rasner as part of the Brandon McCarthy trade just two days before Christmas 2006, the native of Round Rock, Texas, was projected as someone who could contribute later in the 2007 season but thought to have needed a little more experience at the outset. After all, Texas' first-round pick from 2003 reached Double-A Frisco in 2005, and then made only 13 starts and pitched in 14 games overall for Triple-A Oklahoma in 2006.

By Danks' own admission, his 21-30 career record and 4.20 ERA in the Minors certainly don't indicate mound dominance. But he also recently echoed a familiar refrain from his father, in that statistics are for losers. Danks posted a 2-0 record with a 4.32 ERA in 16 2/3 innings this spring, but also was the most impressive fifth-starter candidate amongst the group including Gavin Floyd and knuckleballer Charlie Haeger.

Danks threw one-hit baseball over four innings Friday against Colorado, earning Guillen's praise, and leading the manager to basically give the southpaw a spot on his staff. Guillen also speculated a decision on the fifth starter could have been made as soon as Saturday.

That decision came about after a morning meeting involving Guillen, his coaching staff and members of the front office.

"We're going to stay with Mr. Danks," said Guillen with a smile, revealing the news during his postgame press conference. "It was a long conversation. I think the way he throws the ball in Spring Training, he earned that spot. We all like the way he went about his business and was pretty tough.

"It was tough because Charlie and Gavin and [Adam] Russell gave him a pretty good fight. But we, as an organization, wanted to get everything set up right away and try to move forward."

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Guillen listed Danks as one of his spring "ifs" now answered, but a few more important roster questions remain. Guillen explained Saturday how the team is still deciding whether to bring 11 or 12 pitchers, which would then directly affect the status for position players such as Brian Anderson, Eduardo Perez or Luis Terrero.

Although Floyd, Haeger and even Russell came up a little short in the fifth starter competition, Guillen said they will stay firmly in play for the two or three bullpen openings. David Aardsma, Andrew Sisco, Boone Logan and Ryan Bukvich also are trying to join bullpen locks in Bobby Jenks, Matt Thornton, Mike MacDougal and Masset.

These final cuts could be made as late as Wednesday, when the team returns from a two-day road trip to the Valley, according to Guillen, with the team heading to Birmingham for an exhibition game Thursday.

"All those guys are in the mix, and it's whoever comes out and throws the best," Guillen said. "We'll see how they handle it."

Wednesday's game against Arizona marks Danks' final Cactus League start, and then the youngster will take the 40-man spot vacated by Sean Tracey sometime next weekend. His big-league debut comes Saturday, April 7, during an afternoon contest against Minnesota at U.S. Cellular Field.

One or two bad starts won't earn Danks an immediate demotion, according to Guillen. Then again, Danks understands the leash won't be extraordinarily long for a team with World Series aspirations entering the 2007 campaign.

"If I'm not getting the job done, I know they're going to bring in the best option for my spot," Danks said. "But I'm glad to be given the first opportunity. The ball's in my court just like it's been all spring.

"Now, it's time to go out there and get outs," Danks added.

Aside from calling his family at home, Danks didn't have any celebration planned Saturday night in honor of the news. He was just happy to be staying with the big-league team and not moving over to the Minor League side following Guillen's summons.

"He said, 'Welcome to the team and go out there and keep doing what you've been doing,'" said Danks of Guillen's message. "I've been attacking the strike zone, and he said I've shown him I'm fearless. That's the type of pitcher I am."

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