Season preview: Starting pitching

Mark Buehrle is the only major league pitcher to throw 200 innings each of the past 10 seasons. AP Photo/Paul Beaty

Jake Peavy’s roller-coaster ride during his road to recovery is merely the topic that drew the starting rotation the most attention this spring. Plenty of other significant secondary topics remain, including the potential final season on the South Side for Mark Buehrle, John Danks’ attempt to move into an even more elite class of pitchers, Gavin Floyd’s search for a full year of consistency and Edwin Jackson’s first full season with pitching coach Don Cooper.

Then there is the effort to fill the No. 5 spot in the rotation until Peavy returns. Philip Humber looks to have won the honor. The White Sox need a healthy Peavy at some point in the first half so that he has a chance to round into top form by the second half. In an ideal world, Peavy becomes what Jose Contreras was in the second half of the 2005 season: A dominating pitcher that can take on anybody’s staff ace during a Game 1 of a playoff series. It’s a tall order but probably a necessity if this team hopes to make a deep October run.

Over the past decade it has been impossible to picture the White Sox without thinking of Paul Konerko and Buehrle. The reality is, though, that Buehrle, one of the on-field faces of the franchise, could get squeezed out next season. The White Sox already have commitments in 2012 to Peavy ($17 million) and Gavin Floyd ($7 million).

Danks will be in his final year of arbitration in 2012 and will be in line to either get a raise on the $6 million he is making this season or negotiate a multi-year deal to take him beyond his initial free agent years. Buehrle just turned 32 and has never had arm trouble so it’s hard to see him retiring after this year as he has mentioned.

His place in White Sox history has been secured with a World Series title, a perfect game and another no-hitter. He is the only major-league pitcher to throw more than 200 innings in each of the past 10 seasons, and his 2,220 innings since 2001 are the most, ahead of Livan Hernandez (2,173), CC Sabathia (2,127), Barry Zito (2,205 2/3) and Javier Vazquez (2,102 2/3). But will this be the last time he pitches on Opening Day for the only franchise he has ever known?

Danks’ victory total has been inching up every season and another similar climb puts him in the 17-win range this season. His 3.72 ERA from a year ago was slightly better than his 3.77 mark from 2009, but he pitched 12 2/3 more innings last season and gave up 10 home runs less than the previous year. His spring had been bordering on dominating until the Dodgers knocked him around a bit in his second-to-last Cactus League outing.

Floyd has been focused on his own deficiencies, in particular a lifetime ERA of 6.30 in March/April and a 5.47 mark in May. When Jackson came to the White Sox at last year’s trade deadline he had a 5.16 ERA and just six victories in 21 starts with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 11 starts with the White Sox he had a 3.24 ERA and four victories, but in six of those 11 starts he gave up just two earned runs or less. Cooper has been reinforcing the slight mechanical change Jackson made when he first arrived with the White Sox.