CHICAGO -- It never is easy to swim through crocodile-infested waters, yet Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura managed to pull off the trick Wednesday.
Call it part faith-building exercise and part a bullpen that has been rolling along on wobbly tires. Danks entered the eighth inning at 107 pitches. He struck out Mike Trout, got Albert Pujols to fly out near the warning track and then gave up a game-tying home run to Josh Hamilton.
An inning later, the life preserver was thrown in the form of three consecutive White Sox singles that won the game, the last coming off the bat of Leury Garcia against a five-man infield for a 3-2 victory.
And because of that hit from the little-used Garcia, Ventura’s message still came through on multiple fronts: His proven players, like Danks, will get the benefit of the doubt -- even if they might be running on fumes -- as the bullpen isn’t in the best of shape.
“He's got every bit of faith in us, so it seems at least,” Danks said afterward. “He gives us a chance to go out there. He kind of looks at it as we do, as it’s our ballgame. That certainly goes a long way when your manager has your back. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get out of the eighth, but these guys battled their butts off and it's always good to get a win.”
Ventura talked about a new-look Danks as his inspiration for taking Wednesday’s eighth-inning gamble, but that’s a mighty big roll of the dice. Danks got beat on his 120th pitch against a hitter in Hamilton who had owned him in the past. Hamilton was 7-for-16 against Danks with a home run entering the contest, not bothered by the lefty-on-lefty battle.
“Tonight you’re just looking at what you see, and you take what you’ve seen tonight, the way he’s thrown, a veteran guy,” Ventura said. “He’s pretty up front when he’s feeling good and when he’s not.
“Tonight, that pitch got him. But he pitched a great game.”
With the inexperienced Eric Surkamp as the only left-handed reliever at his disposal -- and the bullpen playing musical chairs now that Ronald Belisario has been removed from the closer role -- Ventura’s line of thinking wasn’t all that hard to read, even if he wouldn’t admit it.
“I don’t think so, just seeing what is happening,” Ventura said when asked if he would have made a different decision with a bullpen less in flux. “[Zach Putnam] didn’t throw [Tuesday], Jake [Petricka] threw a couple innings, so we were trying to hold him back somewhat.
“If we had to, [Hamilton] was going to be the last guy and we would go to Putnam for that next out and then the next inning. [Danks] was going to pitch that regardless of how it was going for the pen.”
Sure, sometimes players need to be saved from themselves, and it can be a manager’s toughest call. But a little belief can go a long way, too, even if there were other motivators involved in the decision.
“Any win's a good win,” a beaming Danks said afterward. “It's fun to watch these guys go to battle. It was kind of a punch in the gut when Hamilton hit the homer, but it seems like it didn't really faze these guys too much. I was glad to be a part of it and happy that the guys rallied in the ninth.”
While Danks didn’t get the victory, it was yet another solid outing from the left-hander who seems revitalized. He tied a career high with 10 strikeouts and has a 3.20 ERA over his last six starts.
Any doubt or uncertainty that Danks had after shoulder surgery two years ago is gone, and knowing he can throw 120 pitches in an outing helps in that department, as well.
Is it surprising to throw 120 pitches?
“Feeling how I feel, it doesn't surprise me at all,” Danks said. “I'm happy to do it and actually want to do it. I'm glad to be able to be sent back out there with 100-plus pitches. I hope the next time it turns out a little better.”