Danks bitten by walks, homers
Rookie continues club's run of poor starting pitching
MINNEAPOLIS -- Entering Monday afternoon's series opener at the Metrodome, the White Sox stood three games over .500 and in prime American League Central contention because of one reason: pitching.
Make that starting pitching, in specific, as the rotation's front five carried into Minnesota a string of 29 straight starts in which it had worked at least six innings. According to sound baseball reasoning, the further starters pitch effectively, the better chance a team has to win. The mound efforts were especially important to the White Sox, who simply didn't hit through the season's first seven weeks.
But how quickly could that precarious perch in the middle of the division teeter toward the bottom, if somehow those arms started to falter? Following Tuesday's 9-2 shellacking at the hands of the Twins (26-25), the White Sox (24-23) are beginning to get an idea.
In the two games against Minnesota, White Sox starters Jose Contreras and John Danks (3-5) have a combined 0-2 record and 13.50 ERA, allowing 19 hits and seven walks over 8 2/3 innings. To take that feeling of futility one step further, the 47 hits allowed by the South Siders during this three-game losing streak dating back to Sunday signify the highest total in a three-game stretch since White Sox pitchers yielded 48 hits to Cleveland from May 17-19, 1999.
Despite being thoroughly outplayed by Minnesota, the pitching remains the chief concern.
"Ask anyone in baseball. If you don't have a good starting rotation, you will be in trouble from the beginning," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, after watching his team match Monday's season-high in hits allowed by giving up 16 Tuesday. "Ask anyone below .500 right now, ask the manager what the problem is. The first thing out of his mouth is that the pitching staff is no good."
Although Danks stands as a rookie with just nine career starts, he appeared to be the right man on the mound to correct the pitching problems. Danks picked up his first Major League victory at the Metrodome on May 9 and carried a 3-0 record with a 1.89 ERA over his last three starts into Tuesday's performance.
Danks' previous eight starts had produced two middle-of-the-road efforts and six sterling showings -- not bad for one of the youngest pitchers in the game. But on Tuesday, Danks showed the kind of struggles expected from a rookie.
His final line read six earned runs allowed on nine hits over 3 1/3 innings, with Danks issuing four walks and not striking out a Minnesota hitter. Danks gave up one run in the second but was touched for four in the third, with Justin Morneau's 16th home run and second career blast off of Danks starting the uprising.
Even in the aftermath of his worst career effort, Danks still was able to maintain a sense of humor when asked about the pitch he threw to Morneau.
"A home run," said Danks with a laugh. "Fastball. I was trying to go away and I got it up over the middle of the plate.
"Like I said after my debut, you don't win the AL Most Valuable Player for nothing. He hit it well and I'll have to throw a little better pitch next time."
Tuesday's start marked Danks' third against the Twins. It was just two days ago when Danks spoke eloquently of the Twins' hitters understanding his tendencies and Danks having a greater knowledge of Minnesota's approach. He pointed out Tuesday's battle would be a game of adjustments.
Those adjustments don't seem to matter much when a pitcher has trouble locating his pitches, as Danks did.
"There really wasn't an adjustment to be made," said Danks, who threw just 44 of his 83 pitches for strikes. "It wasn't adjustments as much as I didn't have the command of the pitches that I wanted. When I did, I wasn't able to finish the at-bat."
"From the beginning, he had trouble getting the ball over the plate," Guillen added. "Most of his pitches were up, and that's why he got hit hard. He didn't have [control] today, but that's the first time since he's been here that he's thrown the ball that poorly."
Alex Cintron knocked out two hits for the White Sox, with Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko picking up RBIs. Darin Erstad extended his hit streak to 13 games, although Dye's came to an end at 14.
Those highlights pretty much covered the White Sox offense against Boof Bonser (4-1), who struck out six over 6 2/3 innings, while giving up only one earned run. Aside from Morneau's blast and the three hits apiece from the first baseman, Luis Castillo and Michael Cuddyer, the biggest thrill for the Twins came in the sixth with none other than A.J. Pierzynski at the plate.
Pierzynski ripped a shot back up the middle, which shortstop Jason Bartlett slickly gloved before it reached the outfield. Bartlett made an off-balance, one-hop throw to Morneau, nailing Pierzynski, the object of constant jeers after Monday's mini-controversy.
The focus on Tuesday wasn't Pierzynski or even an offense hitting .234, 42 points below the Twins. It was the struggling nature of the team's driving force, a group of arms the White Sox hoped would hold steady until the offense got moving consistently.
Hope still strongly exists, mixed in with a few worries.
"People in this clubhouse have been in the game long enough to know what they need to do to get out of this and get everyone on the same page and start rolling," White Sox third baseman Joe Crede said.
"Everything is dictated by pitching," Guillen added. "During the last two games here, the starters and relievers have done a poor job."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.