John Danks feeling like his old self

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- John Danks has a lot more self confidence these days and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with marrying country music star Ashley Monroe over the winter.

Now a year and a half removed from shoulder surgery, Danks said he finally feels more like himself and sounds confident that it will show up in his work.

So what’s different from a year ago? Just about everything.

“I’m stronger; not having to force things quite as much,” he said. “The ball is coming out of my hand night-and-day better than it was last year and hopefully it will continue to improve. But I feel good about things and confident. I have high expectations for myself and we’ll see. We got to go do it.”

If all goes according to plan health-wise, Danks is one of three definite members of the rotation along with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. After that a number of pitchers, including Felipe Paulino, Erik Johnson, Andre Rienzo and others are in line for the final two spots.

Danks gave it his best shot last season in his return from surgery, but with limited velocity, every outing was an adventure. He made 22 starts and pitched 138 1/3 innings, but finished the season with a 4-14 record and a 4.75 ERA.

One of his hopes now that he is so far away from surgery is that perhaps it won’t be a topic of discussion anymore. But until he returns to being the pitcher the White Sox signed for five years and $65 million through 2016, it will probably remain in the discussion.

The White Sox think that despite Danks’ struggles last season, it was a big step toward him being a dependable pitcher again.

“Looking back, I feel that John had a good year last year from the standpoint that he took the ball and was able to log as many innings as he did,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “Obviously, he wasn’t the same John Danks. It’s not a surprise the ball wasn’t coming out of his hand quite the way it had in the past.”

Danks had his first official throwing session Saturday on the opening day of spring workouts and while he didn’t come anywhere near to showing his full arsenal, there were reasons to be encouraged.

“We’re not exactly setting lineups on one day of sidelines or making roster moves at this time but it was a good day and I think that John, given where he is and his rehabilitation and recovery, has a far, far greater chance of returning to that form we saw from him for many years than repeating what we saw last year,” Hahn said.

The sense was that Danks learned last season how to get outs with his best stuff and when his arm strength returned he would be more of a complete package. But last year is probably one that the lefty would rather forget.

“I don’t know if that was pitching, that was kind of, throw it and look out,” Danks said.

Now a Nashville resident, where he lives with Monroe, the Texas native used his new locale to his advantage.

“(Pitching coach Don Cooper) is there,” Danks said. “I got to see him a couple of times. We talked about just the few positives that there are to take from last year that we can build on. I’m excited to couple that with getting the stuff back.”

If forced to find the positives of 2013, though, Danks can sift through the rubble and find some small tings to cling to.

“The walk rate was down,” he said. “I was able to use the curve ball a lot more effectively than I ever had in my career. I had no problem getting ahead in the count. The problem was putting them away. Once I get strength and stuff back I’ll have no problem doing that.

“Everything the doctors told me, I have to throw to build arm strength. The more throwing you can do early, the quicker it will come back. I think every inning I pitched last year helped me. Some were easier than others. Definitely, I think that I’m on the right track and close to being where I want to be.”