CHICAGO -- When Adam Dunn put offseason calls into his good friend, Jake Peavy, during past years, he always expected the same generic response from the right-handed hurler when he asked for a pitching health update.
"You know, 'I'm OK. I feel all right. I'm a little sore. I'm a little tired, blah, blah, blah,'" said Dunn with a laugh of the Peavy talks. "There's always a little something, something in there."
That "something, something" turned into "I feel good" when the two veterans talked prior to this current season. And it was at that point, Dunn knew Peavy was in for a revelation of a 2012 campaign. In reality, both men are in line for the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award as the All-Star break approaches.
Dunn was voted on to the American League All-Star team by his peers thanks to his game-changing ability with the bat that has produced 24 homers and 58 RBIs. Peavy, meanwhile, ranked a close second behind Texas' Yu Darvish in Tuesday's first round of results for the 2012 AL All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote Sponsored by Firestone.
Entering Tuesday's action, Peavy also was tied for first in the AL with four complete games and ranks second in innings pitched (112 2/3), fifth in average against (.215) and sixth in strikeouts (101) and ERA (2.96). Dunn threw his support behind Peavy in the Comeback race, saying Peavy had an excuse for the 2011 struggles that finished with a 7-7 record and 4.92 ERA before he was shut down in September, while the designated hitter didn't have one for his dismal showing.
The excuse for Peavy was never-before-done surgery performed in July 2010 to reattach his lat muscle. Peavy was told by his doctors that it would take about 18 months before he returned close to his former form, and almost two years removed from the one-of-a-kind operation, Peavy is proving those doctors' assessments accurate.
"He's stayed healthy," said White Sox general manager Ken Williams of Peavy. "When he's healthy, he's good. He always has been."
"Jake is coming back from something nobody has ever had before," Dunn said. "Doing what he's doing, that's to me pretty impressive."
A won-loss record of 6-5 ultimately might have cost Peavy the outright All-Star bid, but that mark is a bit deceiving. The White Sox have scored just two runs for Peavy in his last four losses, and he has dropped a pair of 1-0 games and a 2-1 setback to the Cubs.
The 2012 version of Peavy is different than the pitcher who burst onto the scene with the Padres back in 2002. Matt Thornton, who pitched against Peavy in the Minors and saw him during Spring Training when Thornton was with the Mariners, compared that Peavy to the current version of Sale.
Simply put, a decade ago, his stuff was electric.
Final Vote candidates
Jonathan Broxton, KC
Yu Darvish, TEX
Ernesto Frieri, LAA
Jason Hammel, BAL
Jake Peavy, CWS
Michael Bourn, ATL
David Freese, STL
Bryce Harper, WAS
Aaron Hill, ARI
"What Jake has done is convert himself into a true pitcher," Thornton said. "I've talked to him over the years about things he learned form [Greg] Maddux and preparation and getting ready for starts.
"It's pretty cool to watch him. You watch him do video work and get ready and watch three or four starts of other right-handed pitchers going against the team he's going to face.
"Then he sits down and talks to the catchers and executes the game plan," Thornton said. "It kind of inspires you to do better and to put more time in. He has always had a competitive fire, and now he's healthy enough to have that fire and go out and compete and not just be out there battling injuries."
Pitching coach Don Cooper spoke of Peavy's "fire, his focus, his ability to throw strikes, his ability to change speeds and his ability to battle," giving everything he's got in every game. Peavy also has taken on a leadership role for a team featuring five rookie relievers and seven rookie hurlers overall.
"There's a lot with Jake," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "The numbers and what he does for us on the mound are great. But he's a good example for our guys that are young to watch every day and see his preparation, see how much he cares in between his starts of what he's doing, what he's teaching guys and how to act on and off the field -- how to be a pro."
"Just sitting on the bench with Chris Sale and talking today in the bullpen with [Brian Omogrosso] who walked down there with me, and just talking baseball," Peavy said. "That has been as gratifying as anything. It just takes you back to when you were young."
At 31 years old, Peavy is still young. In his 11th big league season, he isn't quite as young in baseball years. He's been through a lot injury-wise just during his four years with the White Sox, but he has returned to a top-of-the-rotation, All-Star-worthy hurler.
White Sox fans ultimately will decide the All-Star part, but Dunn saw the top-of-the-rotation dynamic coming back in December.
"Like in New York [on Saturday], he told me in the first inning, 'I have good stuff today,'" Dunn said. "That's when you know he does. He gave up a couple of runs, but he said he felt great and had good stuff. You have to believe him."
"I would love to go and I would love to take my little boys and have that experience with them as old as they are now," Peavy said. "It would mean so much to go in this uniform after what I've been through here and what everybody has had to endure alongside me. For our fans to push me in, I wouldn't want to go any other way but this way now seeing how it has had to happen."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.