Danks feels good about first bullpen session

Left-hander's first Cactus League start slated for March 4

Danks feels good about first bullpen session

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- John Danks got the baseball back from catcher Tyler Flowers, adjusted his uniform and toed the rubber on one of the mounds at the White Sox practice fields at Camelback Ranch.

The left-hander motioned with his glove to Flowers, moved into the stretch and fired one final pitch to conclude his bullpen session. But this wasn't like the normal bullpen session seen so frequently for pitchers at the start of Spring Training.

For starters, Danks' 11 minutes of work took place in front of general manager Rick Hahn, executive vice president Ken Williams, manager Robin Ventura, bench coach Mark Parent, and of course, pitching coach Don Cooper, to name a few higher-ups in the White Sox organization, with numerous media members snapping pictures and videotaping each of his tosses and the by-play in between. This was Danks' first bullpen since Aug. 6 arthroscopic surgery was performed on his left shoulder, and the most important news to come from usually such a basic event was that Danks felt good throughout the process.

"It felt real good," Danks said. "It's encouraging to be able to go out there and throw all four pitches and feel good after. I don't know exactly how many pitches I threw, but I feel good about things. It's obviously the first one, but it's good to get out there."

"Yeah, it's good to know that he's feeling good," said Flowers. "That's one of the biggest things. If you're feeling good, you can continue to work and fine-tune everything. He said he felt great. I just told him that I thought everything looked good for the most part."

Flowers didn't really know what to expect where catching Danks was concerned, but still felt the bullpen went better than expected. Danks' velocity appeared to be down a little bit, according to Flowers, but he also figured that the southpaw was easing his way back into things.

"His curveball looked better than I've ever seen it," Flowers continued. "The cutter was good, too. All in all, I was pretty impressed where he was."

"He had a pretty good feel of his changeup. That was always John's second-best pitch and he threw some good changeups," Cooper said. "He spun a couple curveballs, which isn't a huge pitch in his repertoire in the past, and then he spun some cutters. He threw all of his pitches."

After Danks threw the first two while playing catch, Cooper turned to him and said that he was looking good and that the ball looked, "OK coming out right there." Danks' work only seemed to get better as the session progressed.

Thursday's effort was not Danks' first off the mound since he had a capsular tear repaired in his left shoulder and minor debridements of the rotator cuff and biceps in his left shoulder. Since Jan. 2, Danks began throwing 40 pitches off the mound three times per week with a mix of 30 fastballs and 10 changeups to start. He added in offspeed pitches during his work following last month's SoxFest.

That aforementioned surgery cut short a disappointing season in which the talented young hurler, who agreed to a five-year, $65 million deal before the 2012 campaign, finished 3-4 with a 5.70 ERA and didn't pitch after beating the Cubs on May 19 at Wrigley Field. His bullpen session marked another small step toward a potential rotation return at the open of the 2013 campaign, with a second bullpen session scheduled for Sunday.

"At this point, I'm just trying to get back to where I'm completely healthy," Danks said. "I felt good and the next step will be to start worrying about pitches. But right now it's still proving to everybody that I'm 100 percent healthy."

"As far as watching him, I think the last time seeing him throw, the look on his face and what he was going through, it's a lot different right now," Ventura said. "He looked great as far as just the delivery and he looked pain free and looked free and easy. We'll see how he is in a couple of days."

No pain has followed Danks' offseason throwing, and Danks hopes that fact rings true again on Friday. His delivery Thursday consistently came from over the top, instead of dropping down a bit when trying to compensate for the pain. Danks admitted to basically having to start over in regard to his post-injury pitching mechanics.

"My conversations with Coop this whole offseason was different things I was feeling, so things went well," Danks said. "Coop didn't point too much out to me, so I guess that's a good sign."

"All good with John," Cooper said. "It'll be interesting to see how he feels tomorrow but he should be gassed up and ready to go two days from now and the climb will continue."

Danks' first Cactus League start is scheduled for March 4 at home against the defending World Series champion Giants. It's all part of the Spring Training preparatory process, somewhat similar to Chris Sale, who was throwing a bullpen next to Danks on Thursday.

"This is as healthy as I've felt in a year or so," Danks said. "So things are on the up."

"If you lined up 10 pitchers on the mounds out there and said pick out the guy who had surgery, you couldn't have done it. So that in itself is telling you something," Cooper said. "He came in looking good. He's in good shape. He's lean, so way to go doctors. Way to go John. Way to go [White Sox athletic trainer] Hermie [Schneider] in getting him out there to do what he did today."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.