White Sox season preview: Starting rotation

Chris Sale will make his first Opening Day start, but he will hold up all season? AP Photo/Mark Duncan

The Chicago White Sox planned on hitching their trailer to the starting staff, but already questions have emerged with the members of the rotation.

The biggest worry surrounds John Danks, who is returning from shoulder surgery last summer. From the outset, the White Sox have been prepared for the likelihood that Danks wouldn't start the season on time, but that doesn't make his deliberate recovery pace any easier to take.

Danks will start the season on the disabled list and that isn't necessarily a big deal. What could be a huge deal is how long it takes the left-hander to return to his old form. He's not being asked to anchor the top of the rotation but if he can be a key contributor to the bottom half, the club could be in good shape.

Until he is ready to go, Dylan Axelrod is expected to absorb Danks' early season starts.

The positive news is that Chris Sale and Jake Peavy showed this spring they are ready to lead the starting staff and have the goods to form a formidable 1-2 punch. Sale will get his first Opening Day assignment, followed by the veteran workhorse in Peavy.

Sale made a huge leap in innings from 2011, when he was a reliever, to 2012, when he made an impressive debut as a starter, even getting into the Cy Young Award talk before fading late. Will a heavy workload for a second consecutive year take its toll, or will the youngster thrive with his experience from last year?

If Jose Quintana merely gives the White Sox the same results he did in his rookie season of 2012, everybody will be pleased. If he shows growth, though, the White Sox could end up with the kind of rotation they were hoping for.

Gavin Floyd will be an interesting case. His yearly numbers aren't eye popping, but they are steady. Those numbers, though, make more sense from a guy pitching somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 innings, not the underwhelming 168 innings he pitched last season.

Three keys to success

• Sale has shown the ability and the mental fortitude to join the elite group of ace pitchers in the American League. If it happens, the White Sox will have that much-needed rotation anchor that can set up the team for victory every fifth day. What can a legitimate ace do when he's not pitching? He can make opponents press for victories against other members of the rotation since they know their chances aren't good when he's on the mound.

• How long it takes for Danks to resemble his former self is the big mystery. Shoulder injuries can be unforgiving and it could take Danks well into the second half before he finally resembles the pitcher he used to be. What happens in the interim could be huge. Does he struggle in the early going and tax the bullpen, or can he fight through some inevitable early-season hiccups to make positive contributions even as he recovers?

• Floyd has shown he can dominate, but that 2010 stretch when he gave up two earned runs or less over 12 consecutive starts seems like a lifetime ago. The right-hander's career American League ERA stands at 4.20, but the White Sox could use something like the 3.84 mark he posted in 2008 when he won 17 games. As Danks recovers and Quintana moves into his second full season, Floyd stands as the logical choice to anchor the back end of the rotation. Is he up for the task?