CHICAGO -- Jake Peavy wants to be in Cleveland on March 31.
He wants to take the mound at Kauffman Stadium on April 5 or April 6, or quite possibly for the home opener on April 7 at U.S. Cellular Field, and make his first 2011 start for the White Sox.
Peavy has done everything in his power during this past offseason to turn this baseball dream into a reality. It's an offseason without any down time for the veteran hurler, including throwing on Christmas Eve in order to keep up with a program running from the start of November to the end of January, all while traveling to Alabama to help his father deal with an illness.
But even the intense competitor that is Peavy makes no guarantees. No guarantees exist in the world of the detached latissimus dorsi injury in his posterior right shoulder, the season-ender which happened in the second inning of a game on July 6 in Chicago, and was surgically repaired on July 14.
There's no past history to go with in this particular problem, as compared to Tommy John surgery or rotator cuff repair, so there's no possible way to predict how Peavy will perform. It could be a movie script-type story somewhere along the lines of Rookie of the Year, where a boy suddenly has a 100-mph fastball after recovering from breaking his arm.
The result also could see Peavy's electric stuff reduced to an average or mundane level. But all the White Sox want from the 29-year-old is to be the Peavy of the past, a double-digit winner and perennial Cy Young contender.
"If he's healthy, all that will take care of itself," White Sox general manager Ken Williams told MLB.com concerning expectations for Peavy, who is under contract for 2011 and 2012, with a team option for 2013. "If he's not healthy, we are not putting him out there."
"My hope is that Jake is Jake, that he's back to being who he was," White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. "[That] he's back to being that quality pitcher we all saw for a short amount of time and back to being a leader on the staff. He was a confident guy. He spurred others on, and he challenged others to have that same fire. It's a contagious thing."
In all honesty, the White Sox have seen the All-Star Peavy during about half the time he has pitched in the American League. Peavy arrived in 2009 from San Diego with a strained right ankle, an injury sidelining him from June 9 to Sept. 19. Peavy made three September starts and was utterly dominant, posting a 3-0 record with a 1.35 ERA and 18 strikeouts over 20 innings.
Those numbers were a bit of a mirage, as Peavy explained during a Tuesday conference call to discuss his offseason progress. He didn't feel right, but was able to win by basically changing speeds and keeping hitters off balance.
"I was such a lost cause coming off that ankle injury in 2009, and it really does extend all the way back to that," Peavy said. "I didn't have anywhere close to what I was used to on the mound."
A 2010 version of Peavy was supposed to build on that September success, only with more velocity. With Peavy's mechanics way out of whack from changes made to compensate for the ankle injury, he walked 20 and allowed 52 baserunners over 28 2/3 innings and was labeled for a 7.85 ERA during April. Studying video of past success allowed the White Sox and Peavy to make adjustments to return him to that previous effective state, but then the season-ending injury came along.
Cooper didn't think Peavy's career was done as he walked off the mound that July night before White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and White Sox athletic trainer Herm Schneider could reach the mound. But Cooper did classify Peavy's setback as a unique one.
"It will be interesting to watch this unfold," said Cooper of Peavy's return. "It's not an arm, shoulder or elbow. I mean, he tore [the lat muscle] totally off the bone.
"Medicine is unbelievable nowadays and does wonders for people. But all eyes will be on him. Of course, we are all concerned because he's an important cog for us. Jake definitely makes the White Sox stronger."
Plans to replace Peavy in the rotation have been discussed countless times over the past four months. Tony Pena was ruled out by Williams, and Cooper prefers rookie phenom Chris Sale to stick with one defined role -- be it as a starter or reliever. Williams and Sale both have no problem with the southpaw working as a starter for one month or so and then moving back into relief.
Right-hander Phil Humber, claimed off waivers during the offseason, also figures into the mix. That fifth starter behind Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Edwin Jackson only will be needed four times during April.
As Williams definitively stated, there will be no gray area in regard to Peavy's health. The general manager even joked that he has taken up boxing to prepare for this battle with Peavy.
"I've been increasing my workouts because I might have to fight him to keep him off the mound. So, buy your ticket," said Williams with a laugh. "He just isn't going out there unless he's healthy."
Don't doubt Williams' sentiment. Williams tried to put the brakes on Peavy last June when he had arm soreness causing his start to be skipped in Pittsburgh, but Peavy admitted he was going well and wanted to pitch through. They didn't know, at the time, what was about to transpire.
Now, Peavy is on the normal Spring Training path, simply trying to build up his arm strength and innings total for the 2011 season through bullpens and Cactus League starts. Then again, nothing is normal where Peavy and this injury are concerned, but if determination counts for anything, the right-hander should be far more than just a rotation filler in whatever amount of 2011 starts his recovery allows.
"Coming through an injury like this makes you stronger and a better person and appreciative of playing more than I ever have been," Peavy said. "I have a ton of motivation to get back on the field, and hopefully I've got a lot of good baseball left."