'Excited' Danks putting up zeroes

Quick, who is the highest paid player on the Chicago White Sox this season?

If you said John Danks at $15.75 million, you’d be right on the money. And if you have been asking what a pitcher 18 months removed from shoulder surgery will capable of in 2014, you wouldn’t be alone.

Danks arrived in spring training boasting to anybody who would listen that his arm strength is much improved, and his Cactus League results are evidence of that.

The left-hander fired five scoreless innings at the Texas Rangers and now has eight scoreless over two starts this spring. His March 1 outing was rained out.

Danks even worked his way out of a fifth-inning jam after the first two batters reached base. A ground ball and a double play off the bat of top Rangers prospect Jurickson Profar ended the threat.

“I feel like I have a better chance (to compete),” said Danks, who had his shoulder repaired during the 2012 season. “Last year I would have had to pull a Houdini act almost and flip some slow curveballs up there and try to get some chases. I feel like I can go after guys more aggressively because I have a little better stuff. It’s a little sharper. I have some movement on the fastball, the cutter’s sharp and that’s basically how I got out of that last inning.”

Danks was able to make 22 starts in an abbreviated season last year, and he took his licks. He finished with a 4-14 record, not to mention a 4.75 ERA. His 9.8 hits per inning and his 1.8 home runs per nine innings were his worst marks in those categories since his rookie season in 2007.

Never one to sport a blazing fastball, he still had to adjust to being a crafty lefty, and the new pitching personality didn’t seem to suit him. His added arm strength, combined with the knowledge from last year, should make him better in 2014, but he still isn’t claiming to be the pitcher who never delivered an ERA higher than 3.77 from 2009-11.

“It’s been a long road to this point,” Danks said. “We’re certainly not there. We have plenty of work to do, but I’m pleased where I’m at and I’m excited for the season. It’s been fun. It’s been fun to be healthy and feel good and not have to worry about certain rehab things, being in the training room. I’m able to focus on baseball. I can go on the side here in a few days and work on things and not worry about how the shoulder feels.”

Penciled in as the team’s No. 2 starter, the White Sox’s hope is that by pitching Danks the day after Chris Sale, the bullpen can be preserved for a few days. Two of the last three starters have more question marks since they either will be pitchers in their first full season (like Erik Johnson and/or Andre Rienzo), or somebody on the comeback trail (like Felipe Paulino).

And even if Danks isn’t the quite pitcher he used to be, he at least seems to be on the way to getting there.

“I’m excited,” Danks said. “I’m like the kid in the clubhouse this year, just happy to be here and excited to contribute.”