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Haugh: For Danks, little things mean a lot

(MCT) — GLENDALE, Ariz. — While the White Sox would like to forget September, teammates will forgive John Danks for reminiscing about one fine day that fateful month.

Shopping for the Sept. 10 birthday of fiancee Ashley Monroe, a rising country-music star, Danks created the personal highlight of his summer with a smooth delivery. At the instruction of a friend, Danks tracked down a vintage Hummingbird guitar Monroe once mentioned from the Chicago Music Exchange that instantly became her favorite instrument.

“I got lucky finding it,” Danks recalled Wednesday with a smile.

Paying attention to little things brought big satisfaction.

Those have become words to live by every long, detailed day at Camelback Ranch for the injured Sox left-hander as he continues successful recovery from Aug. 6 shoulder surgery.

Every day features a meticulous plan built around the expectation Danks makes the opening-day roster. Every bullpen session includes more focus than when Danks was a healthy young Texan rearing back and firing. Every meeting with pitching coach Don Cooper suddenly resembles an attentive classroom, such as Wednesday when the two studied video for 30 minutes focusing on Danks’ mechanics and his cutter.

Every thrower inevitably becomes more of a pitcher after major surgery, right, Jake Peavy?

“It’s going to take him time to figure out how to do certain things again,” said Peavy, who successfully returned from latissimus dorsi surgery in July 2010. “When you do an act and the last time you did that act you feel something went wrong, it takes awhile before you get to point you do the exact same act without worrying. I think Johnny’s past that hurdle. Now it’s him getting a feel back and understanding his body has changed.”

Danks, who returns to the mound Monday, acknowledged the mental challenge outweighs physical concerns. Physically, Danks will spend spring training working on arm strength and command like any other pitcher in camp who didn’t suffer a tear in the lining of his throwing shoulder. Danks considers himself more lucky than cursed because he knows he wouldn’t be on schedule to start the season if Midwest Orthopedics at Rush surgeon Anthony Romeo, who operated on Peavy, had opted for an open surgery rather than an arthroscopic repair. The unconventional surgical route potentially shortened Danks’ path back to the Sox by months; arthroscopy typically allows pitchers to maintain flexibility and velocity post-op.

Ask Danks how he injured his arm and the man who made his last start May 19 laughs.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Danks said. “I just knew I couldn’t lift my arm the next day. Tried to throw through it and it just got worse. From what everyone said, it wasn’t a typical thrower’s injury ... kind of a traumatic thing.”

Yet the hardest part of the comeback for Danks involved pain that had nothing to do with his shoulder. Five days after his surgery, his brother, Jordan, a promising Sox outfielder, hit a walk-off home run. Though immensely proud, Danks always wanted to be pitching in the same game when that happened. Even tougher for Danks was accepting he only started nine games after signing a five-year, $65 million contract.

“There was guilt,” Danks said. “They give you all this money and faith and you make (nine) starts. It was tough, the longest break I had since T-ball. These guys are in a pennant chase and I’m walking in wearing a sling. I was down pretty low.”

As Danks felt his life mimicking the lyrics to a sad country-music song, he leaned on Monroe. She got up at 5 a.m. to drive Danks to surgery and, with the help of his parents, nursed him back to good spirits during the longest August of his life. The couple “talked about everything” as Danks cleared his head of all negativity. The more Monroe’s career soared — she belongs to Miranda Lambert’s trio band “Pistol Annies” — the less Danks dwelled on his woebegone baseball season. Who had time for self-pity sitting next to Lambert’s megastar husband, Blake Shelton, at the American Country Awards in December in Las Vegas?

“I’m fortunate,” said Danks, who plans to marry Monroe next offseason in Tennessee.

With any luck at all, Danks’ skill will complete a healthy rotation that makes the Sox contenders in the American League Central.

“Your pitching staff either gets you to the White House or the outhouse but there’s no one key guy,” Cooper said. “There’s an asterisk next to Danks’ name because of surgery. But if he gets on that plane, we feel he’s ready to get people out. All signs right now are headed in that direction.”

That strikes a chord with Danks and everyone hoping this September he can deliver a gift the South Side can enjoy too.

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