John Danks returned to the mound for the first time since undergoing surgery on his left shoulder on August 6th of last year. The procedure to repair a capsule tear and remove debris in his rotator cuff and biceps ended Danks’ 2012 season. The surgery also revealed that Danks’ had no tear in his labrum, which would have required reconstructive surgery. Since that was not the case, the White Sox were counting on Danks to be at full strength to start the 2013 season.

On Monday, Danks took the first step towards a full recovery by pitching into the third inning versus the San Francisco Giants. The lefty went 2-plus innings while giving up one run on two hits (a solo homer) in a 6-2 victory. Danks threw 35 pitches (27 strikes) on the afternoon, and finished his day with no walks and no strike outs.

All things considered, it was a positive performance for the 27-year-old in his spring debut. The most important thing to take away from the game was the fact that Danks threw a lot of strikes and did not walk a batter. Danks threw only fastballs and changeups as he works on building up his arm strength and getting his command back. With it being his first start in nearly seven months, Danks’ fastball sat between 85-89 MPH. That may not seem like much, but given that he hasn’t pitched a lot lately, the velocity will likely return as his arm strength improves. As the spring progress, look for Danks to add 3-4 MPHs to that range and have his fastball back to his usually range of 88-93 MPH.

But, velocity has never been Danks’ strongest asset. Having movement and command of his pitches is the key to Danks’ success, which is why it was important to see him throw a lot of strikes. When Danks is at his best, he relies on his cutter/changeup mix to move the hitters’ eyes. By having movement on his fastball and the ability to change speeds, Danks is able to attack the strike zone and get both righties and lefties out consistently.

In 2012, the White Sox did not see that from Danks. Whether it was because of the injury or not, Danks had his worst season since his rookie year in 2007. If the White Sox are going to contend in 2013, then Danks will have to return to the pitcher he was from 2008-2010. Without a healthy and effective Danks, the White Sox rotation will be average at best. However, if Danks can stay healthy and pitch up to his potential, then the White Sox rotation could be one of the best in the American League. Danks would slide in nicely behind Chris Sale and Jake Peavy as the number three starter ahead of Gavin Floyd and either Jose Quintana or Hector Santiago.

At the Plate:

Dewayne Wise and Jeff Keppinger stood out the most. Wise had two hits on the day, including a 3-run homer in the 4th inning to give the White Sox the lead for good. Wise has an excellent shot of making the team as the fourth-outfielder. Keppinger recorded three singles in all three of his at-bats while also adding a stolen base. Keppinger is now batting .467 on the spring, and should see plenty of pitches to hit while batting in the two-hole for the White Sox lineup.

On the Mound:

In addition to Danks’ debut, prospect Simon Castro built off his impressive first start by throwing two more scoreless innings. Castro struck out five hitters while allowing just one batter to reach base on a hit. Castro now has 8 strike outs in his 5 innings of work this spring, and is putting together an impressive case to be the first minor leaguer the Sox would turn to if one of their starters got injured.  Lefty Donnie Veal pitched one inning and struck out the side. Veal is in line to join Matt Thornton as the White Sox two lefties out of the bullpen this season.

Record: 5-3-2

Up Next: Tuesday vs. Team USA at 2:05pm CT (Gavin Floyd vs. Derek Holland). The White Sox are taking on Team USA as they prepare for the World Baseball Classic.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Follow me on Twitter @etichel07