GLENDALE, Ariz. -- He's not quite ready for it at this point, but the thought has already crossed his mind: When his time is done as a starter, Jake Peavy might let it all hang out as a closer. "If I can't stay healthy for 200 innings, if somebody says something about closing or being a reliever, I can do that, I can be a reliever," the White Sox pitcher said on Saturday. "How do I know that? I can be a reliever because I think I can. That's the bottom line. I can do something because I believe I can do it. If it comes down to that, I'll do it because I love this game. "When I walk away, you guys will know it because it's time."
It isn't time yet for him either to relieve or close based on his performance on Saturday. Peavy pitched five innings of scoreless, no-hit ball as the White Sox defeated the Mariners, 5-0, in Cactus League action at Camelback Ranch. Peavy pitched to one batter over the minimum of 15, walking only Justin Smoak to open the second inning. He struck out five. The performance was in stark contrast to his previous outing on March 12, when he allowed six runs and eight hits against the A's.
After that outing, the sky was falling. The right-hander is less than two years away from experimental surgery that reattached the lat muscle to his shoulder by way of tiny eye screws and micro-fishing wire. Any failure to excel is tempered by all that. Saturday, the question was whether he or John Danks should be the Opening Day starter at Texas on April 6. Peavy gave Danks his vote, for whatever that's worth, because he's the future of the franchise. For Peavy, the future is right now. Even though he's only 30, he's been to Spring Training every year since 2000 when he was coming up through the Padres' organization, so he knows the score. The question shouldn't be about good or bad this time a year. People should only begin to worry if his arm falls off. "The only question you should be asking any of us this time of year is, 'How do you feel?'" Peavy said. "Nothing else matters." Peavy also knows that the innings are beginning to pile up on his arm. Of the 1,581 1/3 he's tossed in his nine-year big league career, only 238 2/3 of them have come since the 2009 midseason trade that sent him from the Padres to the White Sox. He arrived on the disabled list because of a foot injury, pitched on it and ultimately tore the muscle off his shoulder. Right now, he says he's feeling the best he has since coming to Chicago, but MRIs of his shoulder show the overall wear and tear. He confided that it's never going to get any better. The last few years have just been a mental horror show. "I dreaded start days for the last three years, wondering how I was going to get through them. What kind of medicine was it going to take?" he said. "It was just a bad frame of mind. That will take its toll on you." Peavy spoke about a relief appearance last year on June 25 at home against the Nationals as being the watershed of his season. He threw four innings on his throw day after Danks suffered an oblique strain and had to leave after two innings. Peavy remained in the rotation, made his next start and said he could never again catch up. "I pushed it and pushed and I was OK," he said. "But it was totally my fault. I volunteered and I got in that game in relief and let it all hang out. Adrenalin was flowing then. After that, I was behind the eight ball. I never got close to where I was pain free. But today, I didn't take a Tylenol. My ankle didn't hurt me. "I can't believe right now how I feel. I can't promise you a month from now whether I'm going to be healthy. We're going to do everything we can do to stay this way, but it's so refreshing to be healthy." It would figure, though, his old associations with the Padres would stir new competitive juices. It was Trevor Hoffman, No. 2 all time with 601 saves, who recently began talking with Peavy about ultimately transitioning to the bullpen like Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz had done. Peavy spent the first seven full seasons of his career in San Diego while Hoffman was the closer, twirling his magic. "We were just talking about it and he said, 'Have you thought about being a reliever?'" Peavy said. ""I said, 'I have thought about it because of the shape I've been in.' Right now, I don't want any part of that. I'm a starter and that's what I want to be. If I'm healthy, I'm a starter at heart. But down the road? There's no doubt I have thought about it and can do it." The White Sox have a hefty $22 million option on him for 2013 with a $4 million buyout. So for Peavy, that time may be sooner than he thinks.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.