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Injuries leave staff short-handed at start of season

Club looking for alternatives to fill in for starter Danks, reliever Crain

Injuries leave staff short-handed at start of season

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The White Sox pitching staff was labeled as their 2013 strong suit when the hurlers arrived in Arizona back on Feb. 10.

With no disrespect to an offense that finished fourth in runs scored in the American League last season, it was the staff, Nos. 1 through 12, that figured to decide whether the White Sox would be contenders or also-rans.

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That thought process hasn't changed. But for what looks like the first month of the season, the strong suit will be operating a little short-handed.

Manager Robin Ventura announced after Wednesday's Cactus League contest that John Danks more than likely would begin the upcoming campaign on the disabled list, with the southpaw being moved to Minor League games as he works his way back from Aug. 6 arthroscopic shoulder surgery. And on Thursday morning, reliever Jesse Crain, who appeared in just one Cactus League game on Feb. 25 against the Giants because of a strained right adductor, admitted that his one inning in a Minor League game Wednesday didn't go as well as he was hoping.

Crain's setback could leave him sidelined for Opening Day with just six days left in Spring Training and just 10 days remaining before Opening Day against the Royals on April 1.

"Obviously, if it doesn't pick up soon, I'd imagine," said Crain of the disabled list possibility to start the season. "I'm hoping it doesn't do it that way.

"Flat ground and the 'pen, for the most part, is good. At least yesterday it was. Until I get out there in the game and 100 percent trying to throw, it's hard to re-enact that motion. So the only way I can test it is when I do that."

In that 23-pitch Minor League effort against the Dodgers, Crain was able to "let it go" on the mound, which has been the biggest problem during this injury battle. He started feeling tightness and discomfort after about 10 pitches and the area ended up being swollen.

He threw about 10 to 12 more pitches, "flipping it in there," as Crain explained.

"From the first 10 pitches to the last, there's a pretty big difference of velocity," Crain said. "Hopefully, it's part of the process of getting it stronger. Maybe it's something that's good for about 10 pitches, then just got tired. I said that a couple weeks ago, so I don't know.

"Discomfort is more how to put it. I wouldn't say pain, but it was something that was affecting me, wouldn't allow me to finish my pitches and put as much on it as I normally would. It was frustrating just because it's been about three weeks, so I'm battling through it and not all the way there yet."

Next up for Crain is a day or two of rest and then possibly trying it again on Saturday. If Crain can't break camp, then the door is open for Brian Omogrosso or non-roster invites Ramon Troncoso and Jeff Gray. The White Sox would look for internal replacement options where both Danks and Crain are concerned.

"That's part of the reason we want to have some depth is because these situations arise, whether in the spring or the middle of the season," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "Again, we have internal options that we will stick with and feel good about if we get to that point."

Danks' situation has far less doubt than Crain. With his fastball velocity topping out at 88 or 89 mph and his command not near where it needs to be, Danks will get a chance to build up arm strength with the hope of returning closer to his pre-surgery form.

As of Thursday morning, a schedule hadn't been set out as to whether Danks would stay back in camp when the team departed. But Danks indicated to Hahn that he would like to be with the big league team as much as possible.

"They probably couldn't justify it, with the way I've thrown so far," Danks said. "I get it. It's a little disappointing. Part of me understands I have some extra time to get ready and that's what we'll do. We're going to keep working hard and stay on the five-day schedule and hopefully be active before too long.

"Really, I'm just looking forward to being healthy. I feel like we've been on the right track. We're still on the right track. We're getting stronger and better each time. Obviously, the results haven't been there, but there's different stuff I've noticed from each start that's improving. We've just got to stay the course."

While Danks hasn't checked the radar gun "one time" during his four Cactus League starts, in which he has allowed 27 hits and five walks over 11 innings, he could tell it was down a little Tuesday against the Reds. This impending disabled-list stint opens up a spot for Dylan Axelrod, who could get a starting chance for the entire month of April.

These setbacks hamper the White Sox staff early. It's not a major issue unless the early trouble for Danks and Crain extends into May and beyond.

"Ideally, everyone is ready to go come Opening Day," Hahn said. "But if we are better to err on the side of caution, especially given that we are starting in some cold-weather cities, which makes it a little more difficult for guys to get loose and injuries to heal quite as quickly. We'll again have to see how the next 10 days unfold on some of these guys."

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.

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