CHICAGO | That wasn’t a bad name dropped by both John Danks and Don Cooper Tuesday afternoon at rainy U.S. Cellular Field.
The beloved Mark Buehrle has been gone for two years, but his influence lives on. And when Danks said he needs to learn how to pitch in recovering from mid-2012 shoulder surgery, Buehrle is the first example brought up.
The beloved former White Sox ace, now plying his trade in Toronto, was a wise counselor for years for locker-mate Danks. His advice, and more importantly, his role-model status as a pitching craftsman, will never come into play more as Danks tries to complete his comeback.
“It’s about pitching, and pitchability and hitting locations and changing speeds,” Sox pitching coach Cooper said as team personnel peeled out of the locker room just after the rainout with the Cleveland Indians was announced.
“We’ve had guys here that do that at 95 mph,” he said. “We had Buehrle who did that at 83. So John’s going to be a little bit more (possessing) pitchability like a Buehrle. That’s the best example for everybody here because they all know Buehrle. Buehrle at one time was 88, 89, 90. The last three, four years he was 82, 83, but he still found a way to do it.”
Tommy John surgery restores elbows good as new, sometimes better, where velocity is concerned. In contrast, shoulder operations aren’t as refined or certain in their outcome.
And there’s a baseball-length tradition of the crafty lefty, working until he’s 40 or beyond, nipping a corner here, cutting a pitch there, frustrating hitters into corkscrew swings. You don’t hear the same descriptions of aging right handers.
Now Danks will have to pay even more attention to Buehrle.
“Mark and I have talked a little bit,” said Danks. “It’s not so much pitching, just BS’ing, bouncing stuff off each other. We’re buddies, and we’ll bounce ideas off each other.”
One quality the 27-year-old lefty must learn from Buehrle’s example is patience.
“Not even a little bit,” Danks replied when asked if patience is one of his virtues. “That’s been the hardest part. It’s tough to watch, especially toward the end of the season when we were in it. I was just a cheerleader.”
Patience has to dominate in his recovery. “I think he’s forced to learn it,” Cooper said.
The process by which Danks returns to the Sox rotation is grinding slowly. He’ll have another extended spring-training start in Arizona Thursday before returning to U.S. Cellular Field.
“We’ve got to be economical, we’ve got to be able to command and change speeds,” he said. “John’s got a good changeup and we’re going to have to tighten it up. Right now he’s still climbing.”
As a Blue Jay, Buehrle is a league competitor of Danks. Suffice to say, longtime relationships will be firmer than any team rivalries. Whatever pitcher Danks becomes at slower speeds likely will include the influence of an old, loyal friend.
This column solely represents the writer’s opinion. Reach him at DGemsNet@aol.com.