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Danks leads Sox into Cactus opener

Danks leads Sox into Cactus opener

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Wednesday's afternoon contest at Tucson Electric Park might solely signify the start of Cactus League play for most of the White Sox players, games that don't really count in the record books or on the back of baseball cards.

But when John Danks steps on the mound against the defending National League champions from Colorado, the left-hander hopes it's the first step toward a highly successful second big league season.

"It's just the start of me beginning to prove myself and solidify my spot in the rotation," said the upbeat Danks in regard to his Cactus League debut. "I just want to go out and do a good job."

Danks, 22, has been penciled into the third spot of the White Sox starting rotation. That spot behind Mark Buehrle and Javier Vazquez could change, depending on how Danks and Gavin Floyd show themselves in Arizona.

In fact, the Texas native already has mentioned how he doesn't consider himself an absolute lock for the rotation. Danks does enter competition with an extra weapon, though, a cutter that he began working on last year and has been throwing impressively through the first week of bullpen sessions and batting practice.

That particular pitch gets a little more practical use during Wednesday's contest.

"Exactly," said Danks of using the cutters to challenge hitters in live-game action. "It's a good read to see how hitters react to it, and if I can throw it for strikes consistently. So far it has been great, and I feel real comfortable with the pitch.

"I was working on it all last year, and I took what [pitching coach Don Cooper] told me and ran with it. It's a pitch to get in on the right-handed hitters. I didn't have anything to get in on them and keep them honest on the inner half."

The lineup behind Danks features Jerry Owens in center, Orlando Cabrera at shortstop, Jim Thome as the designated hitter, Paul Konerko at first base, Jermaine Dye in right field, A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate, Josh Fields at third, Juan Uribe at second and Brian Anderson in left. The White Sox have not defeated Colorado in Tucson since March 6, 2006, and are winless in their past 10 meetings.

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If the cutter complements Danks' other three pitches, he could help end that losing streak on Wednesday. It also should help Danks build on last year's 5-6 first-half performance, with a 4.62 ERA, instead of slipping back into his second-half form when he finished 1-7 with a 7.11 ERA. Danks also hopes to improve his numbers against righties, who hit .292 and accounted for 21 of the 28 home runs he allowed.

With Bartolo Colon officially joining Boston on Monday, Danks also knows the rotation competition appears to come from other young talent within the White Sox clubhouse -- starting Wednesday.

"You know what? I didn't think about it too much," said Danks of last week's rumor that Colon was joining the White Sox through a Minor League deal. "I saw he signed with Boston. Good for him. It's one less person to worry about."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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