Danks' outing is Blackhawks inspired

John Danks focused on the A's, but in the back of his mind might have been his Hawks tickets. AP Photo/Charles Cherney

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks don't play baseball, but perhaps they can get some of the credit for an efficient Chicago White Sox victory on Saturday.

John Danks, in just his fourth start since returning from shoulder surgery, shut down the red-hot Oakland Athletics on three hits and one run over eight innings, then made a quick dash for the exit not long after the White Sox had wrapped up a 4-1 victory.

It turns out that Danks had tickets to see the Blackhawks face the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals and he wasn't about to let the A's get in his way. The 2-hour, 27-minute game was ideal as he made his way across town about an hour before the opening puck drop.

Helping matters was the 21 consecutive batters he retired from the second to the eighth inning, and 22-of-23 retired after giving up an RBI single to Oakland's Josh Donaldson in the first inning.

"Oh, I didn't know that," Danks said after putting on a faded black Blackhawks cap. "I felt like I got into a groove. Early on, I hate to say it this way, I felt fortunate to only give up one after the first couple innings. It was a struggle. It was a grind out there. I just had trouble getting the ball down, the changeup didn't feel great, but I felt like I was able to make enough pitches to get out of it. Once I was able to settle in, I felt pretty good about things."

That curveball Danks had been refining during his rehab outings came in handy against the A's, who didn't seem to have a reliable scouting report on the pitch.

"I think I threw more curveballs than I've thrown my whole career," Danks said. "That's just the way it's gonna be for a little while. You gotta find a pitch and ride it. Fastball command was kind of hit or miss, it was different inning by inning, and I gotta have something to get them off the changeup. And fortunately I was able to throw the curveball for strikes and kind of ride that for a bit."

Talk about your brilliant times to step back into the limelight. The White Sox know Danks' return is going to be an up-and-down process until he gets more starts, but with the team struggling, the rotation missing guys like Gavin Floyd and Jake Peavy, not to mention a bullpen that was run into the ground in the previous series, Danks' outing was a sight to behold.

"Again, you're looking at spring training and seeing where he's at now and this is more indicative of what you would want to see," manager Robin Ventura said. "He's a competitor always, but with the ability to throw and have location and keep guys off balance and have a feel for the game. When you're not quite right, you don't have as good of a feel for it as he did the last two starts. We're just happy for him to be able to work that hard and get back and be able to go through a tough lineup like this."

Danks was certainly happier to be closer to the guy that earned the victory in the one-game playoff in 2008 against the Minnesota Twins, instead of the one who had control and velocity issues during his rehab. But the last thing he was thinking is that he already has it all figured out.

"Obviously spring training was tough," Danks said. "I battled through a lot in spring, and just like they told me -- the more time and the more strengthening I get, the better I'll be. It's still a process. There will be days where it doesn't feel great. I'm fully prepared for that, but so far it feels great out there.

"Nothing's bothering me. I'm able to throw all four pitches. I'd like to be depended on to go 110-130 (pitches) like the rest of the guys are. I want to just be another pitcher on the team that's expected to get us in the seventh, eighth inning."

For a day anyway, he's also the guy that can get his teammates to a hockey game on time.