Danks brothers show some life for Sox

Jordan and John prove they belong in mix for potential 2014 turnaround

Tribune video by Colleen Kane

Signs of life.

That's what you are searching for when you come to Chicago ballparks in 2013, and some days you just go home shaking your head.

The players do that too, by the way. They're carrying the weight of this awful season, one in which the White Sox and Cubs project to a combined 190-plus losses.

It's the worst period for Chicago baseball since 1948-49, when Luke Appling finally looked old and the Cubs were managed by the aptly named Charlie Grimm. The recovery will be difficult and take significant perseverance.

Luckily for the White Sox, they can draw on Danks power, times two.

Beneath the rubble of a lost season at U.S. Cellular Field, the Danks brothers, John and Jordan, very quietly have shown hints that they could be important players for the Sox on the road back to respectability. Both come with resumes stamped "dues paid in full.''

Jordan, who was available but unwanted by 29 other teams in the Rule 5 draft after the 2011 season, is proving to be a late bloomer at age 27. He might have surfaced earlier if he had not been blocked by guys like Juan Pierre, Dewayne Wise, Mark Kotsay and, gulp, Kosuke Fukudome.

Finally given a chance to play regularly, the younger Danks is hitting like he belongs. The question is whether he fits long term as an extra outfielder or perhaps a regular.

"You don't know,'' White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "You hate to a put a ceiling on a guy.''

Danks has won minor league Gold Gloves and used his baserunning skills to win games. The question that kept him at Triple-A Charlotte for four seasons was his bat, and he entered Tuesday night's game against the Twins hitting .256 with four home runs and seven stolen bases in 140 plate appearances.

While it would be great if he hit for more power, the numbers suggest he is at the least an alternative to the one-dimensional Dayan Viciedo in left field. He has put together a .744 OPS, which might not sound that impressive until you compare it to that of other players. Danks' OPS ranks 149th of 409 big-leaguers who have at least 125 plate appearance, right between 2012 World Series hero Pablo Sandoval and Nate McLouth, the nine-year veteran who has been a regular for the Orioles, through Monday.

"This has been a really good experience getting playing time, getting some consistent at-bats,'' Danks said. "In the past I've been up and down, not getting too many at-bats and never really feeling comfortable at the plate. I'm definitely getting comfortable, feeling pretty good.''

Paul Konerko is among those whose eyes opened a little when Danks responded to the chance to play regularly by hitting .333 in August.

"He's a good guy, a good teammate,'' Konerko said. "It's nice to see him hitting his stride, starting to feel comfortable. … It's nice to see him get a chance at it.''

While the 28-year-old John Danks is in his seventh season with the White Sox, he has had almost as much to prove as his brother. He takes a 4-13 record into his Wednesday start against the Twins but record aside has passed every test in his recovery from shoulder surgery.

You can see him lining up behind Chris Sale and carrying his load in 2014 and beyond — no small fact for the White Sox, as they owe him $42.75 million over the next three seasons.

"He has thrown the ball well this year,'' Konerko said. "Obviously wins and losses don't show it. This hasn't been the team to be on to get wins. But it seems like he has been climbing since his first start.''

Danks didn't make his season debut until May 24, and has worked 1311/3 innings in 21 starts, suggesting he can become a 200-inning starter again next year. His 4.73 earned-run average ranks 51st among 65 AL pitchers who have thrown at least 120 innings, but he threw well enough to beat the Royals and Rangers in back-to-back August starts.

"His velocity has gotten better as the year has gone on, and I think that's going to be an important thing for him,'' Konerko said. "It's going to be all the way back next year and he'll be a better pitcher than ever because he had to learn a lot about pitching when he came back and didn't have the same fastball.''

According to Fangraphs' PitchFX, Danks' fastball has averaged 89.3 mph this season, down from a career-best of 91.7 in 2010. His fastball was sitting at 90, with a high of 92, when the Indians banged him around in his last start.

"I feel like he's back to his old self now,'' Jordan Danks said. "He's getting his velocity back. His command has been there (some). He has thrown some pretty good games but like all the pitchers on this team hasn't gotten much run support. That's something we'd like to change next year.''

Oh, brother, would they ever.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers

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